College success and graduation is more likely for those students who had dads actively involved in their lives while they were in high school, according to sociologist and National Marriage Project director Brad Wilcox.
"This month, millions of high school seniors across America are making important decisions about which college they will attend for the next four years of their life," Wilcox writes in an essay for The Atlantic. "Based on my professional experience talking to high school students considering attending the University of Virginia, where I teach sociology, many of these seniors seem unaware of how much their chances of collegiate success depend not on their hard work or capabilities, but on whether their parents made certain sacrifices to support them over the years."
While both moms and dads are important to their children's development and success, offering different things, the essay makes a case that dad's contributions should not be overlooked.
"I find that young adults who as teens had involved fathers are significantly more likely to graduate from college, and that young adults from more privileged backgrounds are especially likely to have had an involved father in their lives as teens."
Wilcox used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), focusing on what happened to children who were in middle and high school during the 1994-95 school year. He found those whose fathers were involved in their lives in high school were "significantly more likely" to graduate from college.
He found 18 percent of teens' fathers were not involved in their lives, then divided those with involved fathers based on the degree of interaction, such as help with homework, talking about personal problems and more.
"Compared to teens who reported that their fathers were not involved, teens with involved fathers were 98 percent more likely to graduate from college, and teens with very involved fathers were 105 percent more likely to graduate from college, controlling for respondent’s age, race, ethnicity, level of mother’s education, and household income as a teen," he writes.
A great body of research documents the importance of dads in their children's lives. A collaborative series exploring fatherhood by The Atlantic and Deseret News noted that dads help with impulse control and memory, empathy and behavior problems. Boys with involved dads are less likely to commit crimes or drop out. Girls with involved dads are less likely to become pregnant teenagers, among other things.
Being part of a two-parent family provides both academic and economic benefits to children, according to the report, Wayward Sons, produced for Washington think tank Third Way. It noted "vast inequality of both financial resources and parental time and attention between one- and two-parent families.”
The essay is based on a briefing paper that Wilcox wrote for The American Enterprise Institute. In it, he noted that "paternal involvement is especially prevalent among young adults from college-educated homes, and these young adults are also more likely to live in an intact family. This means that young adults from such homes tend to be triply advantaged: they typically enjoy more economic resources, an intact family, and an involved father."