Surrogate fathers act as paternal figures for many children in poor, urban settings

August 17, 2002

Chicago, IL-- The image of the "fatherless" child in low-income families may be an oversimplification. While many children in inner-city neighborhoods are being raised by single mothers, some of these mothers receive support from the children's "social fathers" (usually a relative or a romantic partner) who appear to substitute for the children's biological fathers.

Research conducted by sociologists Mark King and Andrew Cherlin at Johns Hopkins University explores the role of social fathers in the lives of children living in poor and near-poor minority families residing in central cities. Involved "social fathers" are called "surrogate fathers," and are said by the mothers to be "more like a father" to their children than "their real biological father." These "surrogate fathers" often take at least some responsibility for daily childcare activities.

King and Cherlin will present their findings on Sunday, August 18, at a panel session of the American Sociological Association's Annual Meeting in Chicago.

The paper documents the presence and identity of involved social fathers, called "surrogate fathers," in the lives of children living in poor and near-poor minority families residing in central cities. These surrogate fathers are men who are said by the mothers to be "more like a father" to their children than "their real biological father." Many children have involved "surrogate fathers" who take at least some responsibility for daily childcare activity.

The study found that 22 percent of the children in the sample families have an involved surrogate father. The data are from a study of 2,400 children and their families from randomly selected, low-income neighborhoods in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio.

King and Cherlin found that the most significant predictor of the children's surrogate father status was the mother's union status and her age. When a mother is cohabiting with, or married to, a man other than the biological father, that man is likely to be considered an involved surrogate father. Yet, if the biological father had previously lived with the mother, he may retain enough contact to discourage a romantic partner as a surrogate father.

Children of single mothers (i.e., no co-resident romantic partner) and young mothers were the only subjects with more than marginal probabilities of having a relative surrogate father. "If biological fathers cannot, or do not take on the primary role of father, other men may step in," say King and Cherlin. When the relatives of a single parent sense that assistance is needed a surrogate father may emerge from among her relatives.

The study found that black children were more likely then non-black children to have surrogate fathers who were romantic partners of the mother. Furthermore, nine percent of the sample of primary caregivers was surrogate mothers (i.e. grandmothers or aunts) and the majority was black. Children with surrogate mothers were likely to have surrogate fathers too.

In their findings, King and Cherlin discuss the implications of their study for theories of racial and ethnic differences in kinship patterns, such as the role of informal adoption within black families. They hope that their new data on surrogate fathers will improve current conceptions of fatherlessness and social fathers as well.
The Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association is being held from August 16-19 at the Chicago Hilton and Hilton Palmer House Hotels in Chicago, IL. The American Sociological Association is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to advancing sociology as a scientific discipline and profession, serving the public good. The purpose of the Annual Meeting is to meet the scholarly, teaching, training and practice needs of sociologists and social scientists at every career stage.

Journalists are invited to attend any of the more than 500 presentations, book panels, poster sessions and symposia featured on a wide range of topics at the Annual Meeting. Press facilities are located in Room PDR 1 of the Hilton Chicago Hotel.

Media Office Phone, August 16-19: (312) 294-6783; Fax: (312) 294-6785

American Sociological Association

Related Children Articles from Brightsurf:

Black and Hispanic children in the US have more severe eczema than white children
A presentation at this year's virtual American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting reveals the disparities that exist for Black and Hispanic children when it comes to Atopic Dermatitis (AD), commonly known as eczema.

Black children with cancer three times less likely to receive proton radiotherapy than White children
A retrospective analysis led by investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital has found racial disparities in the use of the therapy for patients enrolled in trials.

The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: First Europe-wide study of children confirms COVID-19 predominately causes mild disease in children and fatalities are very rare
Children with COVID-19 generally experience a mild disease and fatalities are very rare, according to a study of 582 patients from across Europe published today in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.

Children not immune to coronavirus; new study from pandemic epicenter describes severe COVID-19 response in children
- While most children infected with the novel coronavirus have mild symptoms, a subset requires hospitalization and a small number require intensive care.

How many children is enough?
Most Russians would like to have two children: a boy and a girl.

Preterm children have similar temperament to children who were institutionally deprived
A child's temperament is affected by the early stages of their life.

Only-children more likely to be obese than children with siblings
Families with multiple children tend to make more healthy eating decisions than families with a single child.

Children living in countryside outperform children living in metropolitan area in motor skills
Residential density is related to children's motor skills, engagement in outdoor play and organised sports. that Finnish children living in the countryside spent more time outdoors and had better motor skills than their age peers in the metropolitan area.

Hispanic and black children more likely to miss school due to eczema than white children
In a study that highlights racial disparities in the everyday impact of eczema, new research shows Hispanic and black children are more likely than white children to miss school due to the chronic skin disease.

Children, their parents, and health professionals often underestimate children's higher weight status
More than half of parents underestimated their children's classification as overweight or obese -- children themselves and health professionals also share this misperception, according to new research being presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, UK (April 28-May 1).

Read More: Children News and Children Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to