Girls suffer more than boys if their fathers leave the family, researchers have claimed.
Not only are they more prone to depression, but their overall health suffers too, they suggested. In addition, such girls were more likely to take part in risky behaviours like smoking.
University of Illinois researchers analysed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. This long-term academic project gathered information from over 90,000 young people over 13 years. The sample sizes used in this research were around 7,600, and focused on those aged 15 to 19 between 1996 and 2009. The team chose children from single mother families but excluded those whose father had died.
Study co-author Andrea Beller said that if a biological father is never present in his daughters’ lives, “smoking, physical, and mental health are all worse”. However, she said there was “a significant association” between a girl’s poor overall health and her father leaving the family before she turned five.
The rates of depression among the girls suggests that “family structure has a more complex role in girls’ mental than physical health” she added.
Researchers identified another significant gender divide. In households where the biological father has left, the impact on girls is not helped by the presence of other adult males, “father-substitutes”, in their lives. By contrast, the absence of such father-substitutes can be detrimental for boys, Beller said.
In 2013, a University of Bristol study suggested that girls with absent fathers were likely to develop mental health problems during their teenage years.
The University of Illinois study was published in the academic journal Review of Economics of the Household.