WHAT OTHERS SAY: National study defies stereotypes of black fathers

Thursday, January 9, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

It turns out that the loathsome stereotype about African-Americans and disengaged fatherhood is really just a loathsome stereotype.

A new myth-busting federal study has the data to prove it. The study shows not only that fathers of all races increasingly are involved with their children, but that black fathers who live with their young children are more likely to bathe, diaper and dress them than white or Latino fathers who live with their children.

Seventy percent of black fathers who live with their kids help them with the daily functions of life, compared with 60 percent of white and 45 percent of Latino dads, reports the National Center for Health Statistics, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control.

When it comes to other activities, such as reading to their young children daily, 35 percent of black fathers do that, compared with 30 percent of white and 22 percent of Latino dads.

Black fathers also scored high marks when the study looked at fathers who live apart from their children. The report showed that among fathers who did not live with their older children, more than half said they talked to their children about their day several times a week or more.

That was a higher percentage than white or Latino fathers who lived apart from their older children.

The survey included data collected from 3,928 fathers ages 15 to 44 between 2006 and 2010. It provided what is considered to be a trove of information that sets high standards for future fatherhood studies.

The study said that in many cases, there is no statistical significance in the differences between fathers of all races.

It’s odd that it’s noteworthy when a study finds black fathers who live with their children are just as involved — maybe more so — than other dads who live with their kids. This really shouldn’t be a surprise.

But measured against frequent cultural portrayals of black dads as deadbeats, drunks, drug addicts or worse, data that defy such stereotypes are important.

Living together matters

The concern about black fathers’ involvement with their children is related to the unfortunate fact that black dads are more likely than fathers of other races to live apart from one of more of their children.

One in six fathers lives apart from his children, the study found. Regardless of race, fathers are likely to be less involved in the daily lives of their children if they do not live with them.

The study provides more reasons to try to find ways for black dads to live in homes with their children, leading to more stable families and communities.

One thing that would help is to find ways to keep black men out of the criminal justice system. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that one in three black men can expect to go to prison during his lifetime. And while it’s tough for any ex-offender to find a good job, it’s particularly tough for black men coming out of prison.

The racial disparity in the federal prison system, the size of the system itself and its rapid growth are startling. The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, outpacing crime and population rates.

About 2.3 million people are incarcerated, with black and Latino men far more likely to be inside than white men. One in every 15 black men is incarcerated, compared with one of every 36 Latino men and one of every 106 white men.

Regardless of what race they are, families need fathers. Society is well-served by finding ways to keep dads at home.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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