Del Gallo claimed “As dramatic as these [race- and class-based] numbers may be, they pale by orders of multiples compared to the graduation rates of children from households with and without fathers. While whites are 1.76 times as likely to graduate than Hispanics from Pittsfield's schools, according to numbers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Educational Statistics, children from homes with fathers are nine times more likely to graduate.”
After spending hours hunting down these and similar statistics, I concluded that while the stat was created using such official data, the math underlying it was also based on some false assumptions. Unfortunately I didn’t think a full disproof would fit the Eagle’s size limitations or their audience. But I did write a short rebuttal letter to the Eagle, which they also published (always a thrill!):
Wednesday, March 28
To the Editor of THE EAGLE:
I do not want to belittle the difficulties faced by fatherless children, but I am writing to correct a statistic which grossly overstates the problem.
Fathers' rights attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo, III, in his letter of March 24, claimed that "children from homes with fathers are nine times more likely to graduate" from high school. This statistic is extremely implausible on its face, since the claim could only be accurate if children in homes without fathers have an 11 percent or lower graduation rate (i.e., only as high as 11 percent if children with fathers have a 100 percent graduation rate, and commensurately lower if they do not).
Del Gallo's Web site claims the statistic is from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, NCES 98-117 (June 1998). This document contains nothing resembling such a claim, but rather finds that some negative outcomes (not dropouts) are up to twice as common where a nonresident father has no involvement with a student's schooling.
I should also note that this claimed statistic is far more commonly seen as "children from homes without fathers are nine times more likely to drop out of high school," which is equally implausible for the same basic mathematical reason.
The claimed statistic has been sourced to a wide variety of more or less definitive-sounding sources, including the Census Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, Department of Justice, the National Principals Association, and some PTA groups. However, all of those claimed sources are either dead ends, or are themselves secondary sources.
The actual sources for the "nine times" statistic are all associated with "Fathers' Rights" groups, not with government statisticians or academics in pertinent fields.
The next day Del Gallo climbed down a bit. After making some new calculations he now believes that children in homes without fathers are about seven times more likely to drop out from high school than are those living with their fathers.
However, while he begins from reasonably-sourced data, he makes some logical errors with it, his most significant being the assumption that if 26% of children age 0-17 are in fatherless homes, then we would, in the absence of an effect, expect 26% of dropouts to be in fatherless homes. This assumption is unwarranted because fatherless rates start at a low level for infants and go up as a child ages, as divorces occur throughout the course of a marriage, and fatherlessness is closer to 50% as children approach the more likely dropout ages of 16-17. (According to divorcemag.com, the percentage of marriages reaching their 5th, 10th, and 15th anniversaries is 82%, 65%, and 52% respectively.) That and sociocultural effects will explain most, and perhaps all, of the effect of fatherlessness on dropout rates.