In a climactic scene in the 1999 horror movie The Blair Witch Project, Heather Donahue’s character, sensing her and her friends’ impending deaths in the woods, turns the camera on herself and says “I just want to apologize to Josh’s mom, and Mike’s mom, and my mom.” Given that her film project eventually led to Mike’s and Josh’s (as well as her own) deaths (sorry for the spoiler), an apology might make sense. But why did she apologize to their mothers, and not to their fathers?
The answer, from an evolutionary psychological perspective, is that Heather instinctively knew, as do most of us, that children are more important to their mothers than to their fathers, and, as a result, their loss would be more devastating to their mothers than to their fathers. It is not difficult to find abundant evidence for the fact that mothers are more dedicated to their children than fathers. For example, when married couples with children get divorced, chances are that the children stay with the mother, not the father, especially if they are young. According to the 1992 March/April Current Population Survey in the United States, conducted by the US Census Bureau on a nationally representative sample, 86% of custodial parents are mothers. Further, many of the noncustodial fathers who have agreed to pay child support, either voluntarily or via court order, default on their commitment and become “deadbeat dads." The first national survey of the receipt of child support, conducted in 1978, reveals that less than half (49%) of women awarded child support actually received the full amount due to them, and more than a quarter (28%) of them received nothing. The percentages have remained more or less constant since. In 1991, 52% of custodial parents awarded child support received the full amount; 25% of them received nothing. So the question remains: Why are women so much more dedicated parents than men? Why are there so many deadbeat dads but so few deadbeat moms?