On the Epidemic of Fatherlessness in the Black Community

by Dr. Jermaine Thomas, Psy.D. / in , , , , , , , , , , , / tags: , , ,

In 1965, the Assistant Secretary of Labor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, commissioned a report on the state of the African-American family. The report was titled, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. This famed report, which was later commonly referred to as “The Moynihan Report,” resulted in a great deal of controversy, but it unequivocally illustrated the glaring familial disparities that have existed between white and black families. One of the most striking findings of the report was that in 1960, approximately 30 % of black children were being raised within a single parent household, which was a far cry from the 10 % of white children being raised within a single parent household (United States & Moynihan, 1965). Unfortunately, these statistics have continued to rise, and the most recent statistics indicate that roughly 65 % of black children are being raised within a single parent household, whereas approximately 25 % of white children are being raised by single parents (Livingston, 2018). Often times when the nuclear family structure dissolves, it is the mother that serves as the custodial parent, although it should be noted that there are indeed exceptional cases where the father is the primary caretaker. However, the unfortunate reality is that on the whole, fatherlessness is plaguing our society, and this epidemic has had the most pernicious effect on black children.

It is an unfortunate fact that if one is raised without a father, he or she is more likely to be rendered absent of sufficient guidance and discipline. This is in part because traditionally, fathers provide discipline, whereas mothers furnish nurturance and compassion. Of course, these are not strict rules, as it is certainly more advantageous for children when both of their parents properly exercise their capacities for discipline and compassion. However, generally speaking, the traditional paternal ethos is characterized by discipline, whereas the traditional maternal spirit is more tilted towards nurturance and compassion.

Being raised without a father is especially a problem for boys, as fathers play a major role in regulating the aggression of boys and teaching them how to properly harness their aggression. If one respects their father, who generally stands as a proxy for authority, this respect is likely to generalize to other purveyors of authority in the non-domestic sphere (e.g., school teachers, employers, law enforcement officers). In order for boys to develop into socially sophisticated, disciplined, academically astute, responsible, and professionally accomplished men that contribute to the welfare of society, they need their fathers to be a regular presence in their lives.

As for girls, they need their fathers to serve as proxies for authority and discipline too, but they also need them to affirm their value and to teach them what they ought to expect from men. Unfortunately, if such a paternal presence isn’t there, there’s a high probability that the girl may grow up with low self-esteem and accept untoward treatment from men, because even untoward treatment is preferred over not being shown any attention at all. As a general rule, attention is the preferred currency of children, and if a girl grows up without the regular attention of her father, she may settle for adverse attention from other men because her barometer for positive attention was never properly set.

There are many historical and contemporary factors which have contributed to the epidemic of fatherlessness with our society, especially within the black community. However, surveying all of these factors is outside of the scope of this article. Nonetheless, what is undeniably true, is that one of the antidotes to many of the societal ills that plague the black community, is present fathers. Surely, people can co-parent well without being married or romantically involved, but generally speaking, marriage increases the likelihood that fathers will remain tethered to their family and their children. Marriage certainly does not guarantee that one will exercise their paternal responsibilities wisely, but on the whole, it increases the likelihood that it will be the case. Fathers, or husbands for that matter, have been charged with the responsibility to be emotionally attuned to their wives, exhibit reliability, show genuine curiosity in the interests of their children, and to endow their children with guidance, discipline, and wisdom. If we desire a better future for our nation’s children, then society must promote the necessity for fathers and contribute to this endeavor by supporting and fortifying marriages.


Livingston, G. (2018). About one-third of U.S. children are living with an unmarried parent. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/27/about-one-third-of-u-s-children-are-living-with-an-unmarried-parent/

United States & Moynihan, D. P. (1965). The Negro family. The case for national action. Washington, DC. 

About the Author: Dr. Jermaine Thomas, Psy.D.

Related Post