It depends. The newest report from Child Trends finds that children from two-parent homes are more likely to flourish in the educational arena in the developing world, especially the West. No surprise there. As my Foreign Policy article notes:
Children from single-parent families in Australia are 55 percent more likely to have ever repeated a grade, compared to their peers in two-parent families, even after controlling for socioeconomic differences. Similar patterns obtain for children of single parents in Chile (69 percent more likely), Israel (194 percent), Spain (63 percent), Sweden (78 percent), Turkey (95 percent) and the United States (54 percent).
So, in the developed world (yes, even in Sweden!), it looks like it helps to have an on-site father around who can help with the homework, shuttling the kids to extracurricular activities, and devoting a fair share of his paycheck to his kids’ schooling.
But, to my surprise, the two-parent family does not seem to give children an educational leg up, compared to children from single-parent families, in much of the developing world, especially Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. The World Family Map (which I helped to edit) suggests three reasons, among others, that the two-parent family may not provide children with an educational advantage in the developing world:
- The extended family in many developing countries can pick up the slack left by an absent parent, usually an absent or deceased father;
- School effects in the developing world may drown out family effects in the developing world; and,
- Fathers may not devote as much practical and financial attention to educating their children in some developing countries.
Indeed, economist Cynthia Lloyd’s work indicates that mother-headed homes in Sub-Saharan Africa are often more likely to devote a significant share of the family income to kids’ schooling than are homes in the region with two parents. The reason? Dads in some Sub-Saharan countries focus more on their own pursuits and pleasures than on the education of their children.
So, when it comes to education, fathers seem to matter most in countries where fathers are expected to put their children’s needs over their own desires–that is, if they are in the home.