How much do fathers matter to the personal development of their daughters? Scientists studying families have long suspected that domestic instability and insufficient fathering predispose girls to risky sexual behavior, but there was no hard evidence for this view. Until now.
A study published in the journal Developmental Psychology used an ingenious research design to get some answers. Danielle DelPriore and Bruce Ellis of the University of Utah, working with Gabriel Schlomer of the State University of New York at Albany, researched the effects of fathers within families.
They studied 101 pairs of adult sisters from families that had either remained intact or had broken up by the time the younger sister turned 14. In each family the sisters were distant enough from each other in age—at least four years—that they would have had different experiences of their father, especially if he had separated from the family before the younger one reached maturity.
There may be other factors that contribute to the risky behavior beyond absent fathers. There are genetic factors that contribute to risk-taking behavior. Dad may be absent or disengaged because of his own immorality and those genes/tendencies are passed down to his daughter.
This research design made it possible to control for variables that might interfere with clear conclusions about the effects of fathering. Both sisters randomly received half their genes from the mother, half from the father, so inherited genes couldn’t explain systematic differences.
Sibling order could matter: As teens, younger sisters could for some reason be more risk-prone. But that was the point of including intact families. If the sisters differed in sexual risk-taking only in the disrupted families, it would be possible to zero in on how the difference arose.
The researchers used retrospective questionnaires to probe parenting and sexual experiences that the women—who were between 18 and 36 at the time of the study—recalled from high school. Sexual risk-taking included promiscuity, unprotected sex and sex while intoxicated.
But the most striking finding was in older sisters with a large age gap in the disrupted families. The father’s behavior, for better or worse, often affected the older sister much more than her younger sibling.
If these older sisters communicated well with their fathers and felt close to them, they experienced much more parental monitoring and hung out far less with sexually risk-prone peers (bad friends).
“The prolonged presence of a warm and engaged father can buffer girls against early, high-risk sex,” Dr. DelPriore said.
As Dr. DelPriore phrased the question,
“What is it that dad does that shields a daughter from sexual risk?” Dr. Ellis gave the answer: “It’s all about dosage of exposure to dads; the bigger the dose, the more fathering matters—for better and for worse.”
There’s a link between fathers’ absence from the home and girls’ sexual behavior. These girls tend to have sex at a younger age, have more sexual partners and are more likely to become pregnant as teens. This leads to depression and a defiled conscience.
Providing a home with love or support is the best way to improve the situation.
The family is at the center of God's purpose. There is a reason why God chose marriage (between a man and a woman) to portray the relationship He has with His people. It is primarily in the family that a Godly heritage is handed down from generation to generation. God chose Abraham and promised to give him a family, and from that family to make a nation to bless other nations. Abraham's family was the foundation of the nation Israel, from which the Savior came. Then, through that Savior, God brought all believers into a final spiritual family—Spiritual Israel.
The biblical family is being attacked from many directions today. Immorality, irresponsibility, gender confusion, homosexuality, polyamory, government tampering through single-mom welfare, and divorce have all damaged God’s intention for the human family.
There is a better way—returning to the scriptural model of devoted fathers who lead the family in a God-glorifying direction. This is called biblical patriarchy.
The most important heritage we can hand down to our children and grandchildren is faith in the promises of God. I encourage you to put aside everything that would hinder you and to work at giving your children or grandchildren that kind of Godly heritage. Such a commitment will bless your family, your community, and your world. It will condemn the counterfeits, and provide a safer environment for wives and children.