The Benefits of Dads AND Lesbian Moms

I wrote a brief piece in the current issue of The Atlantic with the rather provocative title, Are Fathers Necessary? that to me, at least, offered a rather prosaic conclusion: Yes, most of us consider fathers to be necessary and value them as such, but the existing research does not bear out any benefits exclusive to biological fathers. The piece also substantiated the benefits of lesbian mothers, something I explored in an earlier piece on a lesbian foster couple in The New York Times Magazine.

Predictably, and unfortunately, there was a lot of misreading (or nonreading?) of the article, reflected in many of the comments, which were too often ad hominem and erroneous (both in describing the studies I cited and in characterizing the article I wrote). But today a bright light shines at The Economist, where a post reports, accurately and fairly, on both the study and its conclusions. It’s a bit late to celebrate Father’s Day proper here, but I’m always glad to see stories that fairly represent the benefits of both fathers and lesbian mothers.

7 thoughts on “The Benefits of Dads AND Lesbian Moms

  1. Zach Wagner

    I don’t get it. By the logic of your article, biological mothers seem equally unnecessary. If the conclusion is that planning and good parenting matter most of all, why bother making this about gender at all. Gay fathers seem just as well equipped to care for children as lesbian mothers. Presumably, both of these groups take seriously the benefits of planning because having children involves a series of decisions, reflection, resources and actions. It’s perfectly intuitive that parents who plan on having children will probably also be the parents who care most for their children. It just seems reductive and incendiary to say that all this goes to prove that fathers are unnecessary. Sort of like saying that we know cars don’t need wheels because we see trains run without them.

  2. Pamela Paul


    You are correct that gay fathers seem just as well equipped as lesbian mothers to parent. Indeed, a small amount of data suggests that may be the case, but there isn’t enough solid longitudinal data on gay fathers yet to make conclusive statements on the point. The general point of the Atlantic piece, you are correct, is to note that the GENDER of parents is not important — it is indeed other aspects, most notably the quality of parenting, all else equal. And all else not equal, income, education level, etc. are vital. Finally, the data is consistent that two parents are always better than one.

    Thank you for writing.


  3. Paul

    You dodged his question Pamela. If it doesn’t matter then gender, why did the piece single out fathers as the questionably necessary ones? It sounds like you’re pushing an agenda here as opposed to being objective.

  4. Pamela Paul

    To the final commenter, who wished to remain anonymous and did not submit an email address: I did not single out fathers in the piece. The story was an examination of existing research, which is primarily about fathers. Had there been more data on the relative importance of mothers, the piece would have looked at that as well. As it happens, a longer version of the story, which had to be cut for space, did raise the issue of whether mothers were indeed important either, in the same sense. So, no agenda! Just data.

  5. Brian

    As a fan of both Time and Newsweek and one who enjoys provocative writing on current political and social issues, I recently subscribed to The Atlantic via my Kindle. When my first issue arrived, though, I was puzzled by the titles of two articles – “The End of Men” and “Are Fathers Necessary?” I actually checked whether or not our celebration of women’s history had switched months since it seemed a strange time of year (around Father’s Day) to publish such articles.

    I am a straight, white male very much in favor of women playing a greater role in business and esp. government. I’m tired of the testosterone-fueled alpha-males who promote only war and consumption. Women, by nature (Palin aside), tend to be more reasonable and pacifistic, as long as they aren’t trying to act like men in order to compete with them. This being said, it isn’t so much the content of the articles that bothers me as it is the use of such antagonistic titles and language. Such diction causes us to see each other not as fellow human beings but members of classes organized strictly by sex, race, and religion. Boundaries are drawn and sides are taken. Demographic shifts, those of sex and race, are forever sensitive. Yes, man’s role is changing, but a woman publishing an article with such an incendiary stance comes across as bitter and vindictive. Male readers, in turn, go on the defensive and battle with female readers on hate-filled message boards. This can be avoided simply by choosing to use more neutral language while still addressing the subject matter at hand.

    A good example might be the white majority becoming a minority in 2030. It’s a forecast that scares many whites, especially those who have no affiliation with anyone outside the white race. But if the articles are written by Latinos and labeled, “The End of White People” or “Are White People Really Necessary?” then the fire is that much more stoked, more aggressive stances are taken, and someone stupid does something stupid. This isn’t to say that these subjects shouldn’t be discussed, but they should be done so with a better understanding of the audience so as not to appear so adversarial and alienate readers who appreciate good reporting. I understand the need for attention and readership, especially now when the future of publishing is so up in the air, but it’s important to remember that those of us who read The Atlantic are an educated lot, apt to read the articles despite the titles. Let’s leave pandering to the conservative right.

  6. Pamela Paul


    Thank you for your thoughtful note. I agree with much of what you say. You may be interested to know that writers do not, in general, create the titles of their articles — as counterintuitive as that might be. And generally, articles are created to draw in readers. That said, I think the content of the story reflects a fairly impartial investigation of a recent overview of research on the subject. An in any case, even if the question the article poses is “Are Fathers Necessary?” the answer isn’t necessarily no.

    Thanks again for writing and sharing your thoughts. I think you made some very important and astute points.



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