G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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The topic of black fatherhood bubbled up recently on the internet after a black father blogger wrote about taking care of his kids. He was besieged by online snipers, both black and white. Blacks who attacked the father were upset that the mother of his kids is white. Whites who attacked him said they thought he was lying and that he likely wasn’t much different than the black deadbeat dad stereotype.
With their post, Think Progress seems to be confronting a strawman. They focus mostly on how black fathers who do live with their kids interact with them. They use the data for that particular family structure to make a statement about how black fathers interact with their kids in general. But few, besides maybe some people online, argue that black fathers who are present are worse fathers than white fathers who are present. Perhaps there are some differences associated with other confounding variables, but it seems pretty clear that conservative types, for instance, think that black fathers are a good thing. The problem, as so many have noted through the years, is the high rates of absenteeism among black dads.
But Think Progress obscures this point:
Although black fathers are more likely to live separately from their children — the statistic that’s usually trotted out to prove the parenting “crisis” — many of them remain just as involved in their kids’ lives. Pew estimates that 67 percent of black dads who don’t live with their kids see them at least once a month, compared to 59 percent of white dads and just 32 percent of Hispanic dads. Equal numbers of black dads and white dads tend to agree that it’s important to be a father who provides emotional support, discipline, and moral guidance.
As VerBruggen points out, “many” has a lot of wiggle room. According to the CDC, 23.8% of black fathers do not live with their children. That is true for 8.2% of white fathers and 18.3% of Hispanics.
The graphic shown above also obscures what it means for present fathers to actually be present. The graphic may overemphasize the value of carrying out various tasks “every day”. The ability to carry out those tasks every day might be a result of something else that might have a slightly negative effect. If a father is at home more hours of the day with the kids then chances are that he’s not bringing as much income to the household. So there is a happy medium.
The CDC breaks frequency down into four categories: “Not at all”, “Once a week or less”, “Several times a week”, and “Every day”. There’s a pretty big gap in terms of interaction between the first two categories and the last two categories. If you consider not just doing caretaking tasks everyday but also “several times a week”, white fathers surpass black fathers.
Here are the stats for kids 5 and under:
Fed or ate meals with: Hispanic – 92.3%, White – 97.9%, Black – 92.6%
Bathed, diapered, dressed: Hispanic – 79.9%, White – 93.6%, Black – 87.5%
Played with: Hispanic – 96.7%, White – 99.3%, Black – 96.1%
Read to: Hispanic – 39.8%, White – 66.7%, Black – 64.1%
Whites don’t eclipse blacks by a large margin when the two more positive categories are combined, but it adds more context to the data and also flips the man bites dog-ish headline.
I went a step further and came up with a composite by cross-multiplying living arrangements by positive ranking. If 8.2% of white fathers don’t live with their kids, 91.8% of fathers do. If 23.8% of black fathers didn’t live with their kids, then 76.2% were around (by the way, I couldn’t determine for sure if this study considers fathers who were incarcerated). The CDC compiled caretaking data for both groups of fathers based on home status. Not surprisingly, fathers who did not live with their kids were much less likely to help their kids with these tasks either “every day” or “several times a week”.
It should be noted though, as Think Progress hinted at, the data indicates that black fathers who didn’t live with their kids tended to help out in these tasks more than did white fathers who didn’t live with their kids. For example, 41.4% of black fathers who did not live with their kids said that they bathed, clothed, or diapered their under-5 children several times a week or more. That’s compared to the 33.9% of white fathers who didn’t live with their kids who performed the same tasks. Similarly, for kids ages 5-18, 51.9% of black fathers who didn’t live with their kids talked several times a week or more to their child(ren) about things that went on with them during the week. That’s compared to 34.2% of white fathers. The big difference, though, lies in that huge gap between percent of black fathers and white fathers who do live with their kids – a gap of around 15%*.
The cross-multiplied composite values were thus for children 5 and under:
Ate dinner with their children several times a week or more: White – 0.915, Black – 0.804.
Clothed, bathed, changed diapers: White – 0.887, Black – 0.765.
Played with: White – 0.946, Black – 0.852
Read to: White – 0.636, Black – 0.539
And for children between 5 and 18:
Ate dinner together: White – 0.883, Black – 0.697
Took to and from different activities: White – 0.527, Black – 0.464
Talk to about things that happened to them through the day: White – 0.903, Black – 0.796
Helped with homework: White – 0.577, Black – 0.588
So my whole point here – as I think is VerBruggen’s – is that Think Progress did not completely overturn conventional wisdom about differences in the family lives of blacks and whites.
*I think there are fewer barriers preventing black fathers who don’t live with their kids from interacting with their kids than there are for white fathers who don’t live with their kids. My (educated) guess is that black couples that produce children are less likely to have been married than were white couples who had kids. While marriage is generally a good idea when kids are involved, the condition that led to the father living apart from the his kid(s) i.e. divorce, creates a difficult barrier to work around when it comes to being around your children. It would be interesting to look at the differences in custody arrangements (another term for “roadblocks”) for black families and white families. I also hypothesize that whites are more likely to re-marry after the event that led to the father and child to be apart. Having a new wife and perhaps step-kids makes daily interaction more difficult.