Is fatherhood becoming a relic of the past?

The sad absence of fathers in American families is pervasive and has been growing for decades. In the 1960s, less than 10 percent of American children were born to single women, but as of 2013, the number had increased to 41 percent. Among Hispanic children, 54 percent are born to unwed mothers, and the figure is 72 percent for African-American children.

The institution of fatherhood is not merely a passé throwback to the mid-20th century. Active and engaged fatherhood is an integral part of nature’s design. As Rutgers University’s David Popenoe states, “The contribution of fathers to child-rearing is unique and irreplaceable.”

Research shows the absence of fathers in the home is associated with poorer outcomes for children. Children with involved fathers are more likely to graduate from college, and children raised by both their married mothers and fathers are far less likely to be poor and less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors or become teen parents.

But children are not the only ones who benefit; fatherhood and marriage bring out the best in men, too. Recent studies show fatherhood facilitates biological changes that are linked to reductions in risky behavior for men and reduced anger and increased empathy.

Married men also are more likely to be healthy, practice self-control and remain engaged in the workforce. Marriage is lucrative as well. A 2014 American Enterprise Institute study found married men ages 28-30 are likely to earn $15,929 more a year than their single peers, and married men ages 44-46 earn $18,824 more than their single peers.

Unfortunately, government welfare policy penalizes marriage and therefore committed fatherhood. If a father marries the mother of his children, household income will increase provided the father works, which means the family can abruptly lose some or all welfare assistance.

Marriage is one of the best antidotes to child poverty and keeps fathers connected to their children. At the very least, policymakers must look for ways to reduce marriage penalties. In order to provide men and their children with the best opportunities for growth and development, leaders must look for ways to restore a culture of marriage.

Policies that do not undermine marriage can help encourage fathers’ relationships with their children and restore the prominence of married fathers in their children’s lives.