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Father Absence Impact on Daughter Sexual Behaviors

Research Topic

The research topic of the proposed study is the exploration of the influence of father absenteeism on attachment development in adult women with the focus on the mother-child and female – intimate partner dyads. This study aims at identifying the difference (if any) between the way females (who have experienced absent fathers) form attachments to their children and intimate partners. It is possible to assume that such females will try to perform the roles of both parents and bring up independent and empowered individuals. However, researchers report quite controversial outcomes. For instance, Stack, Serbin, Mantis, and Kingdon (2015) note that females raised in a one-parent family are often characterized by low self-esteem, insufficient confidence, which contributes to their becoming single mothers. At the same time, Makofane (2015) states that there are many strong and empowered females (and good mothers) who have been raised by their mothers. Therefore, more research is needed in this area.

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The target group of the study is low-income African American women in their mid-30s (33-37 years old). The age of the participants is justified since females in their mid-thirties often have a child (or several children) and an intimate partner so they will be able to share their views on and attitudes towards their relationships with the mentioned close ones. As for race and socioeconomic status, low-income African American females tend to come from one-parent families and experience similar issues their mothers had. Pougnet, Serbin, Stack, Ledingham, and Schwartzman (2012) claim that socioeconomically disadvantaged women often experience father absenteeism and become single mothers.

Research Problem Background

The topic of this study is the examination of the impact of an absent father on the development of attachments in adult women with the focus on the mother-child and female – intimate partner dyads. It is necessary to note that the issues associated with father absenteeism and further development of the woman have received considerable attention. Researchers often focus on the way absent father affects females’ sexual behavior and their ability to develop intimate relationships (DelPriore & Hill, 2013). Makusha, Richter, Knight, Van Rooyen, and Bhana (2013) found that women who had experienced father absenteeism tended to have shaped expectations as to intimate relationships compared to females who had grown up in two-parent families. The researchers also stress that an absent father is only one of many factors contributing to the development of such patterns. Socioeconomic factors, for instance, are potent contributors to the intergenerational continuity of father absenteeism (Pougnet et al., 2012). Lamb (2012) goes even further as the researcher claims that the quality of relationships between mother and child is more relevant than the presence or absence of the father.

It is noteworthy that many researchers tend to utilize attachment theory when considering father absenteeism and intimate relationships. Pascuzzo, Cyr, and Moss (2013) identified the distinct association between attachment insecurity to parents (irrespective of the type of the family) and similar patterns in adult attachment. Phillips et al. (2013) also note that warm relationships with, at least, one parent contribute to the development of healthy intimate relationships in adulthood. Maternal sensitivity is regarded as the central factor predicting adult attachment patterns in females who have experienced father absenteeism (Booth-Laforce et al., 2014).

Little attention is paid to the development of relationships between females who have been abandoned by their fathers and their own children. Wallerstein, Lewis, and Packer Rosenthal (2013) stress that children often have to perform the role of the adult when their parent’s divorce as mothers are often unable to behave appropriately. Millings, Walsh, Hepper, and O’Brien (2012) explore the way attachment to the partner associates with a parenting type in women. Attachment to parents and the parenting style used also have a significant impact on adults’ dating identity (Pittman, Kerpelman, Soto, & Adler-Baeder, 2012). Importantly, attachment to parents often shapes the way the individual’s overall identity develops (Ávila, Cabral, & Matos, 2012). Nonetheless, women’s childhood experiences are not taken into account in the studies mentioned.

Theoretical Foundations

This study focuses on the association between females’ childhood experiences (father absenteeism) and relationships with intimate partners and children (or, in other words, attachments) in their adulthood. It is but natural that Attachment Theory will be one of the theoretical foundations of the proposed research. Pascuzzo et al. (2013) state that the core assumption of attachment theory is that representational models shaping the way adult people form attachments and develop relationships are mainly influenced by childhood experiences. The evolutionary approach will be utilized in this study. According to this context, children form attachments that can potentially ensure their survival. In simple terms, children tend to attach to people who will meet all their needs and help them survive. This approach can also help in the analysis of adult attachment development.

In this study, females’ perspectives on their relationships with their children and intimate partners will be seen through the lens of the survival context. It can be difficult to predict which relationship can be stronger (and which behavior will be chosen for maintaining the relationship) as females may (subconsciously) see their children and their partners as those who will ensure their survival. At the same time, La Guardia, Nelson, and Lertora (2014) state that females who have experienced the absence of the father do not trust men in their adulthood, which means that such women will not regard intimate partners like the ones who can ensure their survival. Whereas, Wallerstein et al. (2013) found that females who went through the divorce process were often unable to perform their maternal role adequately, which shows that their attachment to children was less strong as compared to their attachment to their intimate partner. The Attachment theory is also instrumental in identifying the particular behavior characterizing the development of relationships. The analysis of attachment patterns used by females who have experienced father absenteeism can help identify the link between childhood and adulthood attachment development.

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Contributions to Theory

The proposed study will not generate any theories and will not test existing ones, but it will refine some aspects of Attachment Theory (which refers to the field of General Psychology). The theory will be refined by adding new facets and aspects that can appear during interviews with the participants. The Attachment Theory will be refined as the attachments formed in adulthood will be explored in detail (Pascuzzo et al., 2013). The attachment patterns associated with mother-child and female – intimate partner relationships will be considered. Specific attention will be paid to comparing attachments to the close ones mentioned above. As far as the research associated with father absenteeism is concerned, researchers tend to pay attention to father-daughter and female – intimate partner relationships, but little attention is paid to mother-child relationships. The Attachment Theory (especially the evolutionary approach) will be refined as the comparison of mother-child and female – partner relationships (with the focus on females who have experienced father absenteeism) will be provided.

Theoretical Implications

The proposed study may have certain theoretical implications as it will enrich the field of General Psychology. The theoretical framework used in this study will be the evolutionary approach within the Attachment Theory. The participants’ attitudes and views will be regarded through the lens of females’ behaviors based on their subconscious choices concerning their survival prospects. In simple terms, the study will aim at identifying the preference (if any) in forming attachments. It is possible to hypothesize that intimate partners can be regarded as the best choice for survival, but it can also be seen as rather a short-term solution. Children are a better fit for ensuring their mother’s survival in the long run as they are likely to live longer than their mother’s intimate partner. Therefore, the participants’ accounts will shed light on the relevance of the paradigms mentioned above.

Practical Implications

The proposed study will also have significant practical implications. First, it can provide information that will help females understand themselves and their behavior better, as well as change their lives. On a global scale, the implications can be evident as the number of healthy relationships and strong marriages will increase. Practitioners will also benefit from using the study as it can equip them with data concerning the nature of people’s attachments. Wallerstein et al. (2013) note that practitioners often have clients with serious family issues, and there may be insufficient information on ways to cope with particular situations.


Ávila, M., Cabral, J., & Matos, P. (2012). Identity in university students: The role of parental and romantic attachment. Journal of Adolescence, 35(1), 133-142.

Booth-LaForce, C., Groh, A. M., Burchinal, M. R., Roisman, G. I., Owen, M. T., & Cox, M. J. (2014). Caregiving and contextual sources of continuity and change in attachment security from infancy to late adolescence. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 79(3), 67-84.

DelPriore, D. J., & Hill, S. E. (2013). The effects of paternal disengagement on women’s sexual decision making: An experimental approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105(2), 234-246.

La Guardia, A. C., Nelson, J. A., & Lertora, I. M. (2014). The impact of father absence on daughter sexual development and behaviors: Implications for professional counselors. The Family Journal, 22(3), 339-346.

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Lamb, M. E. (2012). Mothers, fathers, families, and circumstances: Factors affecting children’s adjustment. Applied Developmental Science, 16(2), 98-111.

Makusha, T., Richter, L., Knight, L., Van Rooyen, H., & Bhana, D. (2013). “The good and the bad?” Childhood experiences with fathers and their influence on women’s expectations and men’s experiences of fathering in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice About Men as Fathers, 11(2), 138-158.

Millings, A., Walsh, J., Hepper, E., & O’Brien, M. (2012). Good partner, good parent: Responsiveness mediates the link between romantic attachment and parenting style. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(2), 170-180.

Pascuzzo, K., Cyr, C., & Moss, E. (2013). Longitudinal association between adolescent attachment, adult romantic attachment, and emotion regulation strategies. Attachment & Human Development, 15(1), 83-103.

Phillips, T. M., Wilmoth, J. D., Wall, S. K., Peterson, D. J., Buckley, R., & Phillips, L. E. (2013). Recollected parental care and fear of intimacy in emerging adults. The Family Journal, 21(3), 335-341.

Pittman, J. F., Kerpelman, J. L., Soto, J. B., & Adler-Baeder, F. M. (2012). Identity exploration in the dating domain: The role of attachment dimensions and parenting practices. Journal of Adolescence, 35(6), 1485-1499.

Pougnet, E., Serbin, L. A., Stack, D. M., Ledingham, J. E., & Schwartzman, A. E. (2012). The intergenerational continuity of fathers’ absence in a socioeconomically disadvantaged sample. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74(3), 540-555.

Stack, D. M., Serbin, L. A., Mantis, I., & Kingdon, D. (2015). Breaking the cycle of adversity in vulnerable children and families: A thirty-five year study of at-risk lower income families. International Journal of Family Research and Policy, 1(1), 31-56.

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Wallerstein, J., Lewis, J., & Packer Rosenthal, S. (2013). Mothers and their children after divorce: Report from a 25-year longitudinal study. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 30(2), 167-184.

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