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Debunking the most pervasive myth about black fatherhood

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There's a very pervasive myth about black fathers: that they're more often than not absent from their children's lives. But if you look at the data, it turns out the truth is far more complicated than the ugly stereotype suggests.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow previously took on this myth. Blow started with the basis for much of the idea: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that showed 71.5 percent of black, non-Hispanic children in 2013 were born to unmarried women, compared with 29.3 percent of white, non-Hispanic children.

But as Josh Levs pointed out in his new book All In, 2.5 million of 4.2 million black fathers — or about 59.5 percent — live with their children. Levs's numbers suggest that it's not true, as the CDC figures suggests, that 71.5 percent of black dads are absent from their homes — but rather that many of them are simply unmarried.

And when black fathers do live with their children, they're just as, if not more, likely to be involved in their kids' everyday lives. Blow cited CDC data that showed black fathers are more likely than their white and Hispanic counterparts to feed, eat with, bathe, diaper, dress, play with, and read to their children on a daily basis. While some of the differences in the data aren't statistically significant, the figures indicate that black dads are at least as likely to remain involved in their children's lives as those of other races.

Still, the same CDC data shows black men are nearly three times as likely as white men to have at least one child they don't live with — but Blow pointed to policy-driven issues that may be driving the disparity. For example, a previous report by Justin Wolfers, David Leonhardt, and Kevin Quealy for the New York Times found there are 100 black women not in jail or prison for every 83 non-incarcerated black men. So mass incarceration has actually drained 1.5 million black men — many of whom are young and of marrying age — from their communities, making it more difficult for black women to find committed partners of the same race.

All of the data paints a more nuanced view of black fatherhood than the stereotypes suggest. It's not an issue of laziness, inability to commit to family, or another inherent flaw in black culture, as some people may suggest. There are real systemic issues at play — and most black fathers do seem to be trying make the future bright for their kids.


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