Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Timing of Entry into Fatherhood in Young, At-Risk Men

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Timing of Entry into Fatherhood in Young, At-Risk Men

Article excerpt

Timing of first fatherhood was examined in a sample of 206 at-risk, predominantly White men, followed prospectively for 17 years. An event history analysis was used to test a model wherein antisocial behavior, the contextual and familial factors that may contribute to the development of antisocial behavior, and common correlates of such behavior, including academic failure, substance use, and early initiation of sexual behaviors, lead both directly and indirectly to an early transition to fatherhood. Having a mother who was younger at first birth, low family socioeconomic status, poor academic skills, failure to use condoms, and being in a cohabitating or marital relationship predicted entry into fatherhood. Implications of the findings for prevention of and intervention with early fathering are discussed.

Key Words: fathering, life course trajectories, low SES, role transitions, survival analysis.

A greater understanding of factors associated with positive parenting for fathers would aid in designing prevention programs to help break the intergenerational transmission of risk for problem outcomes such as antisocial behavior and substance use (Capaldi, Pears, Patterson, & Owen, 2003). An important aspect of such knowledge is examination of developmental factors related to the age of entry into biological fatherhood. Adolescent fathers are costly to society; they are less likely than older fathers to live with the mother and child and to be able to provide adequate financial support (Jaffee, Caspi, Moffitt, Taylor, & Dickson, 2001; Lerman, 1993). Further, there is evidence that adolescent parents-both mothers and fathers-provide a poorer environment and less skilled parenting for their child than older parents (Becker, 1987; Berlin, Brady-Smith, & Brooks-Gunn, 2002; Black et al, 2002).

The difficulties adolescent parents face may be due in part to factors associated with the timing of their transition to parenthood. Societal norms govern the age at which the transitions into various roles (e.g., full-time worker, marital partner, or parent) should be made (Hogan & Astone, 1986; Neugarten, Moore, & Lowe, 1965). Thus, role transitions may be age appropriate or off time-either too early or too late (Hogan & Astone). Off-time transitions may have serious consequences for both role performance and the timing of subsequent transitions (Hogan & Astone). For example, adolescent parents have difficulties in the parenting role and may speed the transition out of school by dropping out (Berlin et al., 2002; Upchurch & McCarthy, 1990). Not all off-time transitions are detrimental to role performance, however. For example, fathers who delay parenthood until their mid- to late 30s and beyond show greater involvement with and more nurturant behavior toward their children than on-time fathers (e.g., Cooney, Pedersen, Indelicate, & Palkovitz, 1993; Heath, 1994).

The processes related to the timing of entry into first fatherhood are not well known. Extant studies have tended to involve correlates of adolescent fatherhood (e.g., Thornberry, Smith, & Howard, 1997). A notable exception is Jaffee et al.'s (2001) examination of factors associated with the timing of fatherhood through age 26 years in a sample of New Zealand men. Being born to a teen mother, living with a single parent, early initiation of sexual activity, history of conduct disorder, and leaving school before age 16 years increased the likelihood of becoming a father between the ages of 14 and 26 years.

Early-timed transitions may be particularly detrimental to role performance because they are made prior to developmental readiness. Positive development is hierarchical and integrative, whereby the developments at one life stage rest on the developmental accomplishments and skills acquired in prior stages (Cicchetti & Rogosch, 2002). Early role transitions may leave the key tasks of critical developmental periods uncompleted. …

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