Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Transition to Early Fatherhood: National Estimates Based on Multiple Surveys

Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Transition to Early Fatherhood: National Estimates Based on Multiple Surveys

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study provides systematic information about the prevalence of early male fertility and the relationship between family background characteristics and early parenthood across three widely used data sources: the 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth and the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. We provide descriptive statistics on early fertility by age, sex, race, cohort, and data set. Because each data set includes birth cohorts with varying early fertility rates, prevalence estimates for early male fertility are relatively similar across data sets. Associations between background characteristics and early fertility in regression models are less consistent across data sets. We discuss the implications of these findings for scholars doing research on early male fertility.

1. Introduction

Early childbearing has long been of concern to scholars, policy makers, and the general public because of its potential negative consequences for teen parents and their children. Children born to teenage mothers are more likely than those with mothers who were older at the time of birth to grow up in poverty, drop out of high school, and become teen parents themselves (Haveman, Wolfe, and Pence 2001). Teen parents are also less likely to be married than older parents (Ventura and Bachrach 2000). In comparison to youth living with two parents, those living apart from their biological fathers are more likely to live in poverty, receive welfare, drop out of high school, be "idle," have children as teenagers, marry early, and dissolve their marriages (Hernandez 1993; McLanahan 1985; McLanahan and Bumpass 1988; McLanahan and Sandefur 1994). More recent research has cast doubt on the causality of these associations (Hotz, McElroy, and Sanders 2005), but concerns about teen fertility, particularly in the policymaking community, still abound.

Compared to the body of literature on early female fertility, research focusing specifically on the transition to fatherhood is limited (Goldscheider and Kaufman 1996). However, scholars and policymakers are increasingly recognizing the importance of men's contributions to fertility and marriage outcomes, as evidenced by a number of policies that have been directed at men. For example, beginning in the mid 1980s, Congress passed a series of acts aimed at increasing the payment of child support and the establishment of legal paternity for children born outside of marriage (Committee on Ways & Means 2004). More recently, efforts to promote healthy marriages have focused on both men and women (Administration for Children and Families 2006).

Due in part to this policy interest, research on men's family formation behaviors has increased rapidly. While some consistent patterns, such as the positive association between disadvantaged family backgrounds and early fertility, have emerged in the literature (Rindfuss, Morgan, and Swicegood 1988), there have been some inconsistencies in this early research as well. Additionally, while data on female fertility appears to be quite consistent across surveys (Swicegood, Morgan, and Rindfuss 1984), questions have been raised in the past about the quality of men's fertility data (Cherlin, Griffith, and McCarthy 1983; Rendall et al. 1999).

This paper seeks to provide systematic baseline information on early male fertility by running parallel analyses in three large nationally representative data sets: the 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth and the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. While the NLSY79 has been used extensively in the study of early fertility, the NLSY97 and the 2002 NSFG are relatively new data sources that are likely to be heavily used in the future. These data sets also differ in their sample composition, design, and data collection strategies. The comparisons presented in this paper provide researchers with a clear understanding of differences and similarities in descriptive and multivariate results across the three data sources. …

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