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How many kids do not have a father?

Having an active father figure in a child’s life provides many benefits for their growth and development. Unfortunately, many children grow up without a father present in their lives for various reasons. In this article, we will examine data and statistics on fatherless children in America to understand the scope of this issue.

What percent of US kids live without a biological father?

According to census data from 2020, around 18 million children under the age of 18 live without a biological father in the home. This represents around 1 in 4 (25%) of all children in America.

Breaking the data down further:

  • 27% of children under the age of 18 live with only their mother, equivalent to 20 million kids
  • 2% of children live with only their father, equivalent to 1.5 million kids
  • 4% live with neither parent, equivalent to 3 million kids

Additionally, research has found that 50% of children will spend at least part of their childhood without living with their biological fathers.

How has the rate of fatherless children changed over time?

Over the past 50 years, the number and rate of American children living without fathers in their home has increased dramatically:

  • In 1960, just 11% or less than 1 in 10 children lived without a father in the home.
  • In 1970 this rose slightly to 12%
  • In 1980 it jumped to 19% or just under 1 in 5 kids
  • By 1990, 25% of kids lived without a resident father
  • In 2000 it remained similar at 24%
  • Currently as of 2020, 27% or over 1 in 4 American kids live without their biological father at home

So the rate has more than doubled over the past 60 years. However, the pace of increase slowed from around 1990 onwards.

How do fatherlessness rates differ by race?

Rates of fatherlessness differ significantly between racial groups in America:

  • Asian children are least likely to live without a father at home. Only 13% live without their biological father.
  • White children have a rate of 21% living without a father.
  • Among Hispanic children, 31% live in a home without their biological father present.
  • Black children are most likely to grow up without their biological father – 66% or 2 in 3 black kids live absent a biological dad in their home.

Why are black children much more likely to be raised without fathers?

There are several contributing factors as to why black children in the US are over 3 times more likely than white children to live without their biological father at home:

  • Incarceration – Black males are 5-6 times more likely to be imprisoned than white men in America. This impacts the number of black fathers not living with their children.
  • unemployment – Black men face higher unemployment rates which can create financial instability and impact living arrangements.
  • Education – Black fathers are twice as likely as white fathers to drop out of high school which is linked to higher rates of joblessness and incarceration.
  • Declining marriage rates – Black mothers are less likely to be married when they give birth compared to white mothers.
  • Teen pregnancy – Black teens have higher rates of unintended pregnancy which are less likely to result in cohabitation with the father.

These and other societal factors contribute to the disproportionate share of black children growing up in homes absent their biological fathers.

Are children with absent fathers worse off?

Research has consistently found that children who grow up without fathers in the home are more likely to face disadvantage across a range of outcomes:

  • Children with absent fathers have a higher risk of living in poverty – 40% below the poverty line compared to 22% of the general population.
  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
  • 71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father figure.
  • Children without fathers are 2 times more likely to drop out of high school.
  • 43% of US children live without their father [About 43% of United States children live without their father].
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
  • 85% of all children exhibiting behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes.
  • 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes.
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
  • 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes.
  • 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes.
  • 85% of all youths in prison grew up in a fatherless home.

However, correlation should not be confused with causation. While these statistics paint a concerning picture, not all children with absent fathers develop poor outcomes.

Do children with absent mothers face the same disadvantages?

Far fewer studies have examined the impact of absent mothers on child outcomes. However, the available research suggests that children fare worse without mothers as well:

  • Children with absent mothers are more likely to exhibit anti-social behavior such as aggression, breaking rules, and violating the rights of others.
  • Daughters of absent mothers tend to start having sex earlier.
  • Boys with absent mothers struggle more in forming friendships and have less life satisfaction.
  • Children without mothers have a higher mortality rate, according to studies in low income countries.

This highlights that the presence of both a mother and a father is important for a child’s development.

Do fathers remain involved even if they don’t live with their kids?

While most social data focuses on fathers in the household, some fathers have regular involvement with their children even if they live apart. Estimates of how many fathers maintain contact include:

  • Just over half of children living without a residential father had seen their father in the past year, according to census figures.
  • Around 2 in 5 non-resident fathers have no in-person contact with their children.
  • 1 in 3 see their children multiple times per week.
  • 1 in 4 have daily in-person contact with their children despite living apart.

So while many fathers are absent if they do not live with their kids, a substantial minority maintain regular in-person contact.

Could more father involvement help children’s outcomes?

Many social programs have been established to try to increase paternal engagement, particularly in low income families. Some programs that have shown promise include:

  • Counseling and therapy – for fathers struggling with relationships or employment.
  • Parenting programs – to educate fathers on child development.
  • Home visits – meeting fathers in their home environment to discuss responsibilities.
  • Job training and employment assistance – to help fathers achieve financial stability.

Early research on these initiatives indicates involving fathers more could improve outcomes for both dads and their children.


Around 1 in 4 American children live without their biological father present at home, a rate that has doubled over the past 60 years. Father absence is linked to higher risks of negative outcomes for kids including poverty, teen pregnancy and imprisonment. While not all children with absent fathers struggle, research indicates greater father involvement could benefit many disadvantaged families. Initiatives to educate, counsel and employ fathers appear promising to help more kids grow up with active and engaged dads.