The Truth About Race and Father Involvement

The Truth About Race and Father Involvement

Conservatives often point out that father absence is more common among blacks than among whites. Last year, however, a CDC study seemed to contradict this idea, suggesting that black dads are just as involved as white dads, and in some ways more involved. That study has gained renewed attention lately.

The problem is that the study didn't really show what some claimed it did. In fact, it showed that black dads are far more likely to live away from their kids — and that living with one's kids is (unsurprisingly) a huge predictor of how much time one spends with them. Black dads who do live with their kids are at least as involved as white dads in the same situation, and the same is true of black vs. white dads who don't, but it's not clear who denied that to begin with.

That said, given how much we talk about race and father absence, it's good to take a closer look at how involved black and white dads are in their kids' lives. The CDC doesn't give good numbers on that front — in its racial breakdowns, it insists on dividing dads into those who do and don't live with their kids, rather than giving overall tallies. But, bearing in mind the wrinkle that some dads (the 11 percent who live with some kids but not others) are counted twice, we can do some simple math and get a sense of the numbers.

For instance, about 58 percent of black dads live with their kids, 78 percent of those dads eat daily meals with their kids five or younger, and 13 percent of black dads with nonresidential kids do the same. This means that about 51 percent (.58*.78 + .42*.13) of black dads eat meals with their young kids daily.

Here are the rest of the CDC's father-involvement measures, recalculated this way. Whites have at least a ten-point advantage on half the measures; the other half are split between narrow leads for blacks and whites.

Another thing to bear in mind is that — as Josh Levs points out in his new book All In, which has played a role in rekindling interest in the study — residential black dads seem to be more fertile than nonresidential black dads. As he writes, as a result, "Most black dads live with their kids, but most black kids don't live with their dads." If we weighted the numbers according to children instead of fathers in each group, the difference would be more dramatic.

[Update: Another factor is that dads in prison are not included in the CDC survey; still another may be differences in mortality. Hat tip to Philip Cohen.]

Spreadsheet here. Data were missing for white nonresidential dads doing meals with kids under 5, so for that I used the overall number in the CDC report for nonresidential dads of any race (8 percent to blacks' 12.6 percent).

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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