Teenage boys with a father figure in their lives are seemingly less likely to engage in delinquent behaviour, a US study has found. But lacking a father figure does not have a similar effect on girls.
The working paper, which used data from three questionnaires between 1994 and 2008 by about 11,000 US children, found delinquent behaviour was lowest among boys living with a father figure.
Fathers were particularly associated with the incidence of violent behaviour and gang fighting among boys, said the researchers from the US National Bureau of Economic Research.
But "the presence or absence of such father figures, on the other hand, appears to have little relationship with the chances that adolescent girls will engage in delinquent behaviour," they said.
In fact, the research found growing up with a biological father, who did not live with the family but talked with his daughter, was linked to the daughter having a slightly increased risk of becoming involved in crime or drug dealing.
Richard Fletcher, a senior lecturer in the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle, said the finding - that having a more, not less, involved father could be detrimental to girls - showed the research used crude measures to reach conclusions.
The study, which measured parental involvement by asking teenagers about issues they had talked to their parents about, could not identify the quality of those conversations, he said.
"There are all sorts of ways to talk about things and some might be horrendous and some might be good relationship markers," he said
But Dr Fletcher said he was interested in the finding that the amount of money fathers contributed to the family, if they were not living at home, did not seem to influence problematic behaviour.