• absence of fathers;
  • anxiety;
  • self-esteem;
  • timing of separation


Background  Many rural children in China have been experiencing life without fathers since the 1990s, when their fathers left the rural areas for the urban areas to find a job that would allow them to continue to support their family. However, to date, knowledge and understanding of the effects of the absence of fathers and timing of separation on the mental health of adolescents are limited.

Methods  A total of 2233 students, ranging in age from 11 to 23 years, from five provinces of China, including 1024 adolescents who experienced the absence of their fathers, were recruited for this study. The data were collected using State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, which were self-report questionnaires.

Results  Findings from a structured questionnaire showed that the subjects who experienced life without fathers have increased state-anxiety (t=−5.80, P < 0.001) and lower self-esteem (t= 39.54, P < 0.001) when compared with other subjects, and the above results could be influenced by gender and grade. A limited effect of the timing of separation was found on the mental health of students whose fathers were absent. A significant timing group effect existed for state-anxiety scores [F(3,992) = 2.26, P= 0.05], and post test also revealed that the self-esteem of female scores in the 0–2 timing group was higher than other timing group's [F(3,992) = 4.58, P= 0.004].

Conclusion  The influence of the absence of fathers on the anxiety and self-esteem of adolescents seems to be more serious than our expectation, and the influence will be different according to the timing of father absence.