Following up on a very well-received Mother's Day column on how much Ima is worth, in honor of Father's Day, which falls today in the US, I'm now going to write about Abba.
Since this is the business section, I have to write something about Dad's economic contribution, and I have to think up a clever headline with a nice ring to it - something like a cash register. But as we will see, the social and economic contributions of fathers are intimately connected.
Dads used to be taken for granted, in both senses. When I was growing up in suburban New Jersey, it was almost self-evident that everyone had a father at home. We hardly knew anyone, of any race, who didn't. But Dads were sometimes taken for granted in another sense. On reruns we saw shows like "Leave it to Beaver," "Hazel" and, of course, "Father knows best," where the status of fathers was sacrosanct. (Not to mention the extra-special Dads of the "Munsters" and the "Addams family.") But the shows being made in the 70s had a different take on the family. Archie Bunker was not exactly revered, and Mary Tyler Moore just seemed light-years away from the happy housewives who were the typical representatives of her age group in the previous generation of popular culture. Mary proved that, in the 70s, the workplace replaced the home as the revered center of our human relationships. Unappreciated father Rodney Dangerfield summed it up in one phrase: "I don't get no respect."
But fathers aren't taken for granted any more.
Dad is certainly not self-evident: Most kids in the US don't actually have their father in their home for their entire childhood. And, fortunately, he is regaining the appreciation he deserves.
Massive amounts of social science research converges on the insight that a father at home provides critical benefits to children.
Among the findings: Children who grow up with their father at home experience better grades, more years of schooling, less substance abuse, less depression, less teenage pregnancy, less crime and so on. As adults, these children have higher incomes and more stable marriages. In fact, a large fraction of the achievement gap between blacks and whites in the US can be accounted for merely by the difference in the presence of fathers. Blacks who grow up with their fathers experience outcomes very similar to whites, and white children without fathers experience social dislocation that had been considered characteristic of blacks. It now seems that race plays a much smaller role than was thought. (This is reassuring for classic liberals, though for a certain hard-core left-wing, which was certain that racism was to blame and a certain hard-core right-wing, which was certain that innate IQ differences were to blame, it may be a disappointment.)
But let's get back to the cash register. How do I get to a "million dollar dad" There are two ways:
â€¢ Earnings: a recent survey reported that children in single-parent households (almost all of these are fatherless households) have, on average, about half the income of those who grow up with both parents. Since average lifetime income in the US is about $1.5 million, this would mean that Dad is worth about eight hundred grand per kid in lifetime earnings. At that rate, you only need 1.25 kids to get to a "million dollar dad."
â€¢ Happiness: Money can't by happiness, but surveys shows that it helps a lot. Money is not the only important factor in determining satisfaction, but higher incomes are highly correlated with higher reported satisfaction. I took the Social Survey of the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and compared the reported life satisfaction of married parents vs. all kinds of unmarried ones. On average, you would have to more than double the household income of the unmarried parents to get to the satisfaction of married ones. So Abba's presence alone doubles the standard of living of the parents. Add this to the fact that when Abba is home, Abba's paycheck is also at home, and remember that the kids also benefit (the survey only surveyed adults) - it's a cinch that Abba is worth a million.
Of course the happiness factor needs to be taken in context. Evidently the couples surveyed didn't feel that being together was really worth a million, or else they wouldn't have separated in the first place. But if your family is one of those that is still hanging on, these figures may help you reflect on how much your togetherness is really worth, and today would be a great opportunity to express your appreciation to the Abba in your home.
The writer is research director at the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem (www.besr.org), an independent institute in The Jerusalem College of Technology. He also is a rabbi.