Are Fathers Fungible? Patterns of Coresident Adult Men in Maritally Disrupted Families and Young Children's Well-Being


fathering, biological father, social father, father-child relationship


This study addresses the relationship of biological and social fathers to young children's well-being. We outline three general positions in this debate: biological fathers are important to their young children's well-being and are hard to replace; fathers are important, but social fathers can effectively replace biological fathers; fathers are peripheral to young children's lives and do not significantly affect children's well-being. To address this question, we compared children who had differing experiences with coresident adult men, using a sample of 870 children aged 4 to 6 years form the "Children of the NLS/Y" file. Children in five longitudinal patterns of experiences with coresident adult men in maritally disrupted families were identified (No Male, Grandfather, Stepfather, Reunited Father, and Chaotic) and compared to children in intact families. Thirty-one percent of the disrupted children in were in the No Male pattern, but more than two-thirds were in one of the other disrupted patterns. Hierarchical regression models found no differences in verbal-intellectual functioning between children in intact families and children in any of the disrupted patterns. For the measure of psychosocial dtysfunctioning, only children in the Grandfather pattern were significantly different from children in the Intact pattern. Further analyses revealed the tit was white children in this three-generation living arrangement who experience problems. This study lends some support to the position that fathers, both biological and social, are peripheral to young children's intellectual and psychosocial functioning.

Original Publication Citation

Hawkins, A. J., & Eggebeen, D. J. (1991). Are fathers fungible? Patterns of co-resident adult men in maritally disrupted families and young children's well-being. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53, 958-972.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Journal of Marriage and the Family




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor