Father's Day by the numbers

Maggie Gallagher
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Posted: Jun 13, 2006 8:05 PM
On Sunday, we appreciate all good men who are fathers, which is necessarily a bittersweet experience for Americans who mix a profound gratitude for the men who protect, provide and care for their children with the deep sadness of knowing so many children do not have a father they can count on.

When Mrs. Grundy wanted to know the intimate habits of her neighbors, she had to sneak around, gossip and peer into living room windows. Today, we have the government to do the job for us. This June, the Centers for Disease Control released a new study titled "Fertility, Contraception and Fatherhood." Drawn from the National Survey of Family Growth, it provides the most intimate possible scientific look at the paternal lives of men between the ages of 15 and 44.

Who becomes a good father? Well, it helps enormously if you live with your kids.

Forty-nine percent of nonresident fathers say they never play with their kids, compared to less than 1 percent of resident fathers. Sixty-one percent of nonresident fathers never read to their kids, compared to 17 percent of live-in dads. Forty-two percent of nonresident dads confess they never talk to their children, compared to less than 3 percent of full-time fathers. Fifty-seven percent of nonresident fathers say they never eat with their kids, compared to less than 2 percent of live-in dads.

And if you want to live with your children, it helps to get married first and stay married. Ninety percent of men in their first marriage who have a biological or adopted child are living with all their kids, compared to 60 percent of cohabiting men, 55 percent of remarried men, 39 percent of divorced single guys, and 35 percent of never-married (not cohabiting) men. By the age of 25, a quarter of men say they've fathered a child out of wedlock, and more than a third of all new fathers (married and single) say their child was unplanned.

Maybe it's all that sex. By their early 40s, 63 percent of men have had at least six women sexually; 20 percent have had sexual relations with 20 women or more. On the other hand, 29 percent of men who marry for the first time in their early 20s were virgins. Even 8 percent of guys who married for the first time in their late 30s were virgins.

One piece of good news: Divorce rates are dropping. Forty-seven percent of men who married before 1984 saw their marriages dissolve after 10 years, compared to just 30 percent of men who married in the early '90s.

Men who have never cohabited are a catch. After 10 years, just 12 percent of such husbands have divorced, compared to 28 percent of those who cohabited with their wife. Coming from an intact family helps a little: 33.5 percent of men who did not live with both parents at age 14 divorced, compared to 24.5 percent of men whose parents stayed married.

A college degree is a big plus: 14.5 percent of husbands with a bachelor's degree ended up divorced after 10 years, compared to 34 percent of men with a high school diploma. Latino men had by far the lowest divorce rates (20 percent after 10 years, compared to 28 percent for non-Hispanic whites and 35 percent of African-American men). For husbands, older is better: Just 17 percent of men who married for the first time at age 26 divorced, compared to 27 percent of men who married between 23 and 25 years of age.

So, ladies, if you want to live divorce-free, here's the statistical recipe: Marry a 26-year-old college-educated Latino man who has never cohabited.

One final piece of good news: 98 percent of all men with children agree, "The rewards of being a parent are worth it, despite the cost and the work it takes."

Happy Father's Day.