Young Fatherhood and Subsequent Disadvantage in the United Kingdom

Article excerpt

Although there has been increasing attention to the importance of fathers and their relationships with their children, few studies have examined young parenthood and its consequences for fathers' life chances. In recent years, this has begun to change, and research is examining, to a far greater extent, the experiences of young fathers. Using data from a cohort of British men born in 1970, this paper uses a propensity score-matching technique to compare the well-being of 344 men who reported becoming fathers before the age of 22 with men from similar backgrounds who did not. The findings suggest that selection into young fatherhood is substantial but, for some outcomes, significant differences remain.

Key Words: British cohort study, fatherhood, propensity score matching.

The determinants of young motherhood and the well-being of women who have become young mothers have, for decades, been popular topics of research in the social sciences. This research has demonstrated that early motherhood reflects a background of disadvantage and is also associated with poor educational and employment outcomes later in life and with poorer child outcomes as well (e.g., Hobcraft & Kiernan, 2001; Hotz, McElroy, & Sanders, 1997; Moore, Morrison, & Greene, 1997; Moore et al., 1993). Because young motherhood can interrupt educational and career-related transitions to adulthood, young mothers may have relatively limited economic and social resources, and this may explain some of the negative consequences for their children. Resource deficits may be more severe when early motherhood takes place outside of a marital or cohabiting union. Moreover, some research suggests that early, unmarried motherhood results in delayed or foregone marriage, suggesting that resource deficits may be long term (Lichter & Graefe, 2001).

Although there has been increasing attention to the importance of fathers and their relationships with their children, few studies have examined young parenthood and its consequences for fathers' life chances. In recent years, research has begun to address the experiences of young fathers, but this is a nascent trend. Learning more about this population of fathers is important because like young mothers, they are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds and to be negatively affected if early fatherhood interrupts their educational and employment plans. Hence, they too may have fewer social and economic resources available for their children or for the mothers of their children. Although young fatherhood is less common than young motherhood, it may nonetheless be a strong indicator of disadvantage. Given that young men are likely to be in a sexual relationship with younger or similarly aged women (Halle, 2002), neither parent may be in a position to provide adequately for a child or to support the partner in a parental role.

This study attempts to provide some more information on the characteristics and subsequent life chances of men who became young fathers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Using data on a British cohort of men born in 1970, I match men who became young fathers with men of similar backgrounds and explore the extent to which fatherhood is associated with subsequent well-being. I begin by reviewing the literature on young fatherhood and its consequences. Next, I briefly describe the data and method. The Results section reports the findings comparing young fathers with other men. In this section, I also compare the small sample of young fathers to one another differentiating by relationship status at the time of birth. Because the sample of young fathers is small, these comparisons are merely exploratory and suggestive of differences that merit further research. The final sections provide a discussion and point to directions for future research.

BACKGROUND

Although some studies of the antecedents and outcomes associated with young fatherhood concentrate on either adolescent fatherhood or unmarried fatherhood, the characteristics of the sample of men who fathered a child before the age of 22 suggest that findings from these two literatures are likely to be salient. …