To commemorate Father’s Day, the Atlantic Monthly published the anti-father article Are Fathers Necessary? A paternal contribution may not be as essential as we think (July/August 2010). It’s no surprise that author Pamela Paul’s arguments are factually flawed. Fathers & Families Board member Robert Franklin, Esq. explains:
Pamela Paul tells Atlantic Monthly readers that “there’s nothing objectively essential about his (dad’s) contribution.” Of course she could have said that about anyone; no one’s “contribution” is “objectively essential.” That Paul chose fathers about whom to make the observation speaks volumes about her bias in the matter.
Paul’s article takes off from an analysis of data on parents and children by Judith Stacey, a professor of sociology at New York University, and Timothy Biblarz, a demographer from the University of Southern California, that was published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family. Its purpose is to explain what effect (if any) parental gender has on children. The authors conclude that parental gender seems to make no difference in outcomes for children. That’s the “bottom line” of the study; Paul missed it.
Biblarz and Stacey look closest at lesbian parents and tentatively conclude that they’re about as good at parenting as heterosexual couples. But that conclusion comes with two huge caveats that the authors clearly state. First, studies of lesbian couples overwhelmingly study white, relatively-affluent couples and so are not comparable to more demographically sound ones done of heterosexual couples. Paul never lets her readers in on that fact.
The second caveat is that lesbian couples are far less stable than heterosexual couples, a fact plainly stated by Biblarz and Stacey. While there are various social factors that may account for that, the fact remains that lesbian couples tend to break up more readily than do heterosexual couples and have higher levels of parental conflict. The authors discuss that in some detail; Paul leaves it out altogether.
I would add that while many heterosexual parents have children due to varying degrees of accidents, the children of lesbian couples in most cases are carefully planned. As a general rule, two parents who planned to have a child together will be better parents than two who had one together accidentally, or when only one parent planned to conceive a child.
But even if lesbian couples do parent as well or better than heterosexual couples, that’s no reason to question the necessity of dads, as Paul does. After all, research places the number of lesbian women at somewhere between 2% and 5% of all women in the U.S. Obviously, that many lesbian women can’t parent all of our children. Did Paul not think of that?
Likewise, what little research there is seems to show that gay men make good parents. Would Paul say that mothers are therefore unnecessary?
What we do know is that the overwhelming majority of children are raised by heterosexual parents. We also know that stable, two-parent families tend to produce better child outcomes than do single parents of whatever sex (See, Whitehead, B., The Atlantic Monthly, April, 1993). That means that yes, dads are essential to children, however much Pamela Paul may wish to ignore the fact.
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