Sons of divorce: Effects of father absence on gender identity, locus-of-control and self-esteem

Maria Elaina Giudice, Pace University


According to the 1990 Census, 13,700,000 children are living in female headed, single parent homes. This situation raises the question of how the involved youngsters are affected. Specifically, one might wonder about the effects of the father's absence on boys. Traditionally, the presence of the father has been considered necessary for the adequate psychological development of his son. Many researchers have attempted to determine the effects of father absence on sons. However, such studies often yielded conflicting or confusing results. While some studies found that father absence had a deleterious effect on boys, other studies suggested that parental divorce actually has a positive effect on boys. Reasons for the discrepant findings include the focus on different variables, differences in the age of the subjects, and the use of diverse types of measures. Further, few studies addressed the degree of father absence. That is, while some fathers are absent from the home, they remain active in the lives of their sons. In other cases, a father remains both physically and emotionally absent from his son's life. The present study attempted to address just that point. Seventy-four undergraduate men participated in the study: fifty-one from intact families and twenty-three whose parents divorced. Within the latter group, eleven men had frequent and consistent contact with their fathers, while twelve had infrequent or inconsistent contact with their fathers. These three groups were compared on measures of gender identity (Draw a Person Test), gender role (Bem Sex Role Inventory), self esteem (Coopersmith Self Esteem Scale) and locus of control (Rotter Internal-External Locus of Control Scale). The groups were found not to be significantly different on measures of gender role, self esteem or locus of control. However, they did differ significantly on the number of gender identity indicators found in the Draw a Person Test. Further, a significant correlation was found between the father's physical presence and the son's perceptions of emotional closeness to him. These results suggest that the presence of the father facilitates the son's full identification with the masculine role. Further, these results raise the question of self report versus projective techniques. The differences found among the groups have several implications for future research. For example, researchers might attempt to identify interventions that would prevent or ameliorate gender identity conflict among men of divorced parents. Future research might also take into account the limitations of self report techniques and attempt to use more projective methods of assessment. Further, educators and psychologists may need to understand the effects of father absence in males in order to better serve the males with whom they come into contact.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Personality

Recommended Citation

Giudice, Maria Elaina, "Sons of divorce: Effects of father absence on gender identity, locus-of-control and self-esteem" (1993). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9400678.



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