The Father Effect, By The Numbers

The data behind dads and the substantial and positive impact they have on kids.

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It’s worth being an involved dad. Children with active fathers avoid risky sex, hold down high-paying jobs, have superior IQs, and are less likely to break the law or drop out of school. There’s ample research out there on the Father Effect. Here’s a breakdown of how it works.

Dads Give Toddlers a Cognitive Boost

Infants and toddlers with supportive, involved parents have better cognitive outcomes than other children generally, but the Father Effect is especially pronounced. One 1991 study found that infants with involved dads attained higher cognitive scores by age 1; another confirmed that this effect continues through at least 36 months. The data below comes from a 2006 study that found that toddlers with supportive parents score higher on cognitive tests — and that even children with supportive mothers performed far better if their fathers were supportive, too.

Involved Fathers Raise Well-Adjusted Teens And Adults

The Father Effect doesn’t wear off after those early years of child development, either. One fascinating study from 1998 found that high involvement by fathers protects children from low economic and educational attainment, teen pregnancy, delinquency, and psychological distress — even in the long term. Although the data below shows that the Father Effect impacts all of these metrics, only two rose to statistical significance: economic and educational attainment, and delinquency. The data demonstrates that, for each unit of increase on the parental-involvement index, the child’s attainment scale improves by 5 percent.

Daughters With Active Dads Take Fewer Sexual Risks

Like it or not, there’s something to this “daddy issues” business. “Numerous past studies find a link between low-quality fathering and daughters’ sexual outcomes, including early and risky sexual behavior,” Danielle DelPriore, who has studied how dads impact risky sex, once told Fatherly. DelPriore posits that daughters may learn from disengaged fathers that they shouldn’t expect men to invest meaningfully in long-term relationships — so they settle for casual flings. The data below demonstrates that, for every one-standard-deviation increase in the “father-daughter relationship” metric, we see significantly lower rates of risky sexual behaviors.

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