Investigation of the effects of having a male adult friend for children's well-being, risk-behaviour and school engagement

Primary Investigator: Prof. Anna Piil Damm (Department of Economics and Business Economics, Aarhus University).

Collaborators: Emma von Essen, PhD (Department of Sociology, Uppsala University); Sarah van Mastrigt, PhD (Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Aarhus University) & Prof. Kathrine Vitus (Department of Sociology and Social Work, Aalborg University).

Funder: Danish Council for Independent Research (known as DFF in Danish) and The Danish Crime Prevention Council (known as DKR in Danish).

Project duration: 2016-2023.

Project description: Considerable empirical research has shown that early environments can shape later life outcomes and that supportive adult relationships promote the successful lives of children. While there is extensive social science literature on parental investments into child development, there is no rigorous quantitative evidence on the effect of a non–parental same-sex adult role model on children's cognitive and non-cognitive skills. This is an unfortunate gap in child development research since worldwide, a substantial and increasing share of children are growing up in single-parent, typically female-headed, households. These children grow up with limited access to adult role models compared to other children. Previous qualitative studies suggest that both parents' presence and quality of investments are essential for boys' and girls' physical, intellectual and social well-being. These factors have been found to be important predictors of educational attainment and pro-social behavior.

While high-income single-parent households may increase the children's exposure to other adult role models through, for example, membership of various clubs, this may not be an option for low-income single-parent households. We explore the effect of having a same-sex adult friend for boys and girls with a non-resident father who is not actively engaged in their son's life. To this end, we will conduct a quantitative waiting-list design combined with qualitative observational fieldwork to investigate the effects for boys of assignment of a male adult friend and a female adult friend for girls through the voluntary mentor program in Denmark Børns Voksenvenner. In Denmark, local authorities must help high-risk children in either outplacement or support from a mentor. Thus, unlike other countries, such as the US, it is likely that most children with a high risk of anti-social behavior in Denmark receive support from the local authorities instead of from mentoring programs run by volunteers. Given the population of children we investigate, the findings from our investigation can thus be relevant for a broader population of children lacking the presence of one parent.

Last modified: 2022-03-22