MELBOURNE, Australia, December 12, 2011 ( – A study carried out by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne has found that adolescent boys who have a father figure in their lives are significantly less likely to engage in subsequent delinquent behavior than are their peers with no father in their lives.

“The sense of security generated by the presence of a male role model in a youth‟s life has protective effects for a child, regardless of the degree of interaction between the child and father,” said Professor Deborah Cobb-Clark, Director of the Melbourne Institute and lead author of the study

“Fathers provide children with male role models and can influence children’s preferences, values and attitudes, while giving them a sense of security and boosting their self-esteem. They also increase the degree of adult supervision at home, which may lead to a direct reduction of delinquent behaviour,” she said.


The study used American data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Three factors were studied in the role of fathers influencing youth delinquency: parental involvement and interaction, contribution to household income and engagement with a father figure by simply being present at home.

Unlike previous studies this research examined the full range of father figure roles and modern family structures, Professor Cobb-Clark explained.

“Our study included residential and non-residential, biological fathers and residential stepfathers and their influence on adolescent behaviours. Our detailed data also allowed us to simultaneously consider mothers’ relationships with their children as well as the multiple pathways through which fathers might matter.”

The study found that any form of delinquent behavior was reduced by 7.6 percentage points for boys who were living with their biological fathers, and 5 percentage points for those living with non-biological fathers only.

“Fathers are associated with a particularly large reduction in the incidence of violent behavior and gang fighting among adolescent boys,” the study notes.

The researchers also say that while increased involvement with their sons is related to decreased incidence of delinquency, the largest portion of the positive effects appear to be related to the mere presence of a father figure, regardless of the level of involvement.

“Overall, when taken together our results strongly suggest that much of the overall (baseline) impact of fathers on their adolescent sons’ delinquent behavior reflects the effect of fathers’ presence rather than their involvement with their sons or the financial contribution they make to household income,” they write.

The researchers found, on the other hand, that the presence of a father figure did not have a major impact on the levels of delinquency amongst daughters.

“Adolescent girls’ behaviours are less closely linked to this, which may be attributed to the inherent levels of risk-taking that vary between males and females,” Professor Cobb-Clark concluded.

The full text of the study titled, “Fathers and Youths’ Delinquent Behaviour” is available here.