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Fact or Fiction: Fatherless behavior

A common insult hurled at others on the internet is “fatherless behavior”, but how much truth is there to this statement? Fiona MacCallum and Susan Golombok published a study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry that aims to address past criticism, and seeks to answer the question of how the lack of a father figure affects a child.

MacCallum and Golombok conducted a study that consisted of 38 heterosexual families with a present father and mother, 38 single heterosexual mothers, and 25 lesbian families. The research focused on 3 elements: the mother’s psychological state, the mother-child relationship and the child's socioemotional development as well as the subfields within each element.

The results of the study generally found no significant long term differences in any of the household types. The only differences found are the following

  • Children in fatherless households, meaning children being raised by single heterosexual mother or the lesbian family, perceived their mothers to show greater interest or activities with them.

  • Fatherless households overall tended to show more aggression towards their child during disputes as well as having more severe disputes.

  • Boys in fatherless households scored higher on femininity compared to boys with a father present.

Overall these were the only statistically significant findings, but overall the study by MacCallum and Golombok came to the conclusion that there are no negative consequences to fatherless households. Explanations were provided to explain the three statistically significant differences. Fatherless households having more severe disputes can be attributed to it still being traditionally the father’s role to be the disciplinarian of the family. However, despite the greater disputes, this has shown no negative consequences in emotions, behavior or relationships and was seen as a good mix of high parental care with authoritative parenting. As for boys in fatherless households rating higher in femininity, the explanation offered is that single mothers and lesbians are more encouraging to their sons to be sensitive and emotionally intelligent which was shown to be true during the parent interviews.

Overall, the study showed that what is known stereotypically as “fatherless behavior”, is simply untrue and not backed up by research. The study came to the conclusion that there are very few differences among the 3 family types studied, and no negative consequences for the child.


MacCallum, & Golombok, S. (2004). Children raised in fatherless families from infancy: a follow-up of children of lesbian and single heterosexual mothers at early adolescence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45(8), 1407–1419.

Jordan See, Writer

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