ASU Professor disputes 'Bad Dad' image in new book
What if one of the most significant pieces of social data of our time was flatly wrong, the result of a glaring arithmetic error?
Sanford Braver, Ph.D., a Psychology Professor at Arizona State University says in his new book, Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths(co-authored by Diane O'Connell and published by Tarcher/Putnam) that data published in 1985 which fueled the national outrage and policy-making campaign against divorced dads was filled with errors.
The famous data, published by Harvard sociologist Lenore Weitzman in her book, The Divorce Revolution, purports to show that fathers actually benefited economically from divorce while mothers and children, on average, suffered a 73 percent drop in their standard of living. "It would be fair to say that Weitzman's findings are the most widely known and influential social science results of the last 20 years," Braver said.
"At first, I found myself thinking that if mothers and children experience a 73 percent decline in living standards while men's substantially increase after divorce, we need divorce policies that bring more balance. But then I began questioning Weitzman's calculations. I found almost certainly that she had mistakenly switched around two figures. When I telephoned Weitzman to explore this possibility, she admitted that such an error was possible. But it took seven years until she publicly admitted her findings were erroneous."
Braver conducted an eight-year study of 400 divorcing couples in Maricopa County, Arizona, funded by several federal grants, to trace what he now calls the myth of the "bad divorced dad." His study revealed several surprising findings that directly challenge current thinking about divorced fathers. For example, he found that divorced mothers are far more satisfied overall with the terms of their divorce settlement than fathers are, and about three-quarters of divorces are sought by the mothers. But his most startling result is that there is little difference in how fathers and mothers fare economically after divorce.
While attempting to duplicate Weitzman's findings, Braver and his colleagues discovered not only the reversing of the two figures, but that other important factors, such as the effect of taxes and the father's spending on the children during visitation, had never been included in any previous calculations. When Braver included these factors into the equation, the results showed nearly equal economic circumstances between fathers and mothers.
"I expected these factors to narrow the gap," Braver said. "But I have to admit I was stunned that taking into consideration something as commonplace as taxes would virtually eliminate the gap."
Braver's book catalogs six widely accepted beliefs surrounding divorced fathers. In addition to those previously mentioned they include that father's don't pay much child support, that they fare better emotionally after the divorce than mother's do, and that they don't try to visit their children much after the divorce. After studying those beliefs scientifically and statistically, however, they turned out to be myths.
While he found some divorced fathers who fit the stereotype, most instead truly want to be responsible, loving fathers, debunking the myths. He believes prevailing social attitudes and biased media coverage have contributed to the "bad dad" image and have ultimately caused damage to fathers, mothers and children. Based on a truer picture he found, Braver's book suggests programs and custody policies that he expects will remedy the severe social problems caused by the distorted former views.