The influence of fathers and other significant male figures on girls' well -being and achievement in early adolescence

Jennifer A Hodgetts, Florida International University


Changes in the demographic structure of American families have highlighted the need to reevaluate fatherhood. Research illustrates that paternal involvement positively affects child development, but father absence has increased due to rising rates of divorce, cohabitation, and non-marital childbirth. There is evidence that other male figures can function as effective father surrogates. However, information is limited, particularly with respect to female development. This study examined differences in well-being, achievement, and paternal support among girls in four father categories: (a) Biological Father, (b) Step-Father, (c) Surrogate Father, and (d) No Father. Maternal support, economic hardship, and life stressors were included as potential covariates. Interviews were conducted with an ethnically and economically diverse sample of 694 sixth and eighth grade children. The sample included boys to assess the extent to which the findings were unique to girls. Measures included quantitative and qualitative support from father figures and indices of self-esteem, loneliness, and depression. Standardized test scores and classroom grades were also obtained from school records. Girls with biological fathers had higher achievement test scores than girls in the other father categories, but there were no other differences related to the presence or absence of a father-figure. Biological fathers also provided greater quantitative and qualitative support than step- and surrogate fathers. Surrogate fathers provided a greater amount but lower quality of support than step-fathers. Girls who received lower levels of support from biological fathers reported lower self-esteem and greater loneliness, compared to fatherless girls and those receiving low support from other father figures, suggesting that low support from biological fathers may be especially distressing. On the other hand, girls with low biological father support had higher achievement scores compared to fatherless girls and those who received low support from step- and surrogate fathers. Thus, the mere presence of the biological father appears to facilitate achievement, regardless of the level of support he provides. This study highlights the supportive characteristics of different father figures and their influence on well-being and achievement in females. Future research should focus on the dynamics of surrogate father relationships and the specific characteristics that differentially affect developmental outcomes.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Hodgetts, Jennifer A, "The influence of fathers and other significant male figures on girls' well -being and achievement in early adolescence" (2004). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3151966.