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A quarter of girls with absent fathers become depressed as teenagers, study claims

Girls whose fathers leave before their fifth birthday are much more likely to have mental health problems as teenagers, a study has found.

Twenty three per cent of girls whose fathers were absent during their early childhood reported sadness and fatigue as teenagers, researchers from the University of Bristol discovered – almost twice as many as girls whose parents leave later.

By contrast, less than ten per cent of boys went on to suffer from teenage depression if their fathers left before they turned five, although this rate increased to 17 per cent if the fathers left between the ages of five and ten. The latter figure was ten per cent more than for boys whose parents were still together.

The researchers suggest that younger children have learnt fewer coping mechanisms than older ones and also have more limited social support.

Lead author Iryna Culpin concluded:

“These findings indicate a need to include fathers in research related to child and adolescent mental health issues.”

She added:

“We cannot place judgment or blame on anyone but we are suggesting these girls might be more at risk later on in life… We cannot accord for all the experiences children go through, but from our studies girls are more at risk if their fathers leave early on in their childhood.”

The study, entitled ‘’, will be published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

Photo by Peter Werkman ( 

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. u6c00 says:

    Can you clarify, this blog post states “Girls WHOSE FATHERS LEAVE before their fifth birthday” [emphasis added] but the rest of the post implies that it’s girls who don’t have a father in their life.

    Was the research specific to girls whose fathers had left, or did it include some girls whose mothers had left with the girls? Or cases where contact had been terminated by a mother?

    There’s no link to the research but it seems that the way this article is written makes a case which it is not clear is supported by the research.

  2. JamesB says:

    You will learn, if in doubt the fault lies with the man, if they are locked out they leave. Complete nonsense, but try telling that to the hand / Judge.

  3. Paul says:

    What’s happened with the government’s proposed non-shared parenting legislation? I thought their proposed new wonder words for the Children Act were going to solve all these fatherless family situations. Or is the legislative trade-off – that NSPCC-inspired emphasis on yet more “safety” in child contact determination – going to make us all run away even further. From what I learn, this written legal presumption made largely to support paternal contact will have no effect whatsoever on judicial determinations and therefore it seems the only effect may be to increase the pandemic of false allegations made during contact and custody proceedings to keep the father away. Talk about the law of unintended consequences.

  4. Yvie says:

    The proposal to change the Children Act 1989, to incorporate a directive that children should have a relationship with both parents after separation will make very little difference in reality. Government is not proposing to change anything of significance, rather it’s intention is to ‘make fathers feel that something had changed’ . Smokescreens and mirrors unfortunately.

  5. Chavez says:

    It always puzzles me that we should need to rely on bogus academic research to confirm what should already be common sense. These researchers have very obviously downplayed the adverse effects of the father removal service in this country. Not surprising, as that is more or less what these people in state pay are being paid to do.

  6. Paul says:

    What you’re saying then is that we await a few more spontaneous riots to shake things up again.

    I followed the whole Norgrove review through and even contributed my sixpennyworth. It’s amazing how they connived to do nothing. Not a single statement to say, yes, fathers and children should generally have more time together to deepen their relationships and this is how we’re going to tackle it. Now we’re stuck with even more of the “only when it’s safe to do so” law which is no more than doublespeak for hitting fathers over the head. I hope a few judges get to read these posts, read some child development research and work things out for themselves.

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