Family Structure, Function, and the Early Transition to Fatherhood in Great Britain: Identifying Antecedents Using Longitudinal Data

Article excerpt

The negative consequences of early childbearing have been well documented and include truncated education for teen parents (Card & Wise, 1978; Elster, 1989; Hoffman, Foster, & Furstenberg, 1993; Marsiglio, 1986) and higher rates of divorce in first and subsequent marriages (Card & Wise, 1978). Data from the United States suggest that offspring of teen parents may be more likely to suffer abuse or receive inadequate care (Barret & Robinson, 1990; Kinard & Klerman, 1980) and to bear children while in their teens (Edwards, 1992; Khan & Anderson, 1992). Children born to teenagers may also complete less schooling and marry earlier than those born to older parents (Card, 1981). Even so, the degree of risk to offspring of adolescents might well be determined by a range of financial, social, and emotional stresses faced by families (Buchholz & Korn-Bursztyn, 1993). For example, 20 years after a mostly black group of women in Baltimore became adolescent mothers, the majority of their first-born children had not become parents during adolescence (Furstenberg, Levine, & Brooks-Gunn, 1990). In a study of women from disadvantaged families, Geronimus, Korenman, and Hillemeir (1991) found that while young maternal age was associated with impaired child development, family background was a confounding factor: Once its effects were controlled, there was no adverse impact of maternal age on child development (Geronimus et al., 1991).

The incidence of teen pregnancy in Great Britain is low compared to the U.S., but is much higher than in France, Sweden, and the Netherlands (Jones et al., 1985). Rates of abortion among British youth are also elevated and have increased steadily over the past 20 years (Jones et al., 1986). The rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S. exceeds that of any other industrialized democracy (Jones et al., 1985; Miller & Moore, 1990) and has remained relatively constant in recent decades (Hayes, 1987).

Historically, efforts aimed at decreasing the incidence of teen pregnancy have focused almost exclusively on women, largely ignoring partners of pregnant teenagers (Elster, 1989; Hanson, Morrison, & Ginsburg, 1989; Marsiglio, 1986; Michael & Tuma, 1985). Research reported here uses data from the 1958 National Child Development Study of Great Britain to examine social risk factors for the early initiation of fatherhood. The family background of boys who became fathers while in their teens is compared with that of boys who had not fathered a child by age 23. Results for those who became fathers between the ages of 20 and 23 are presented elsewhere (Dearden, Hale, & Woolley, in press). Findings from this study are then assessed in light of recent work from the U.S.


Considerable evidence suggests that family structure and function influence the age at which individuals initiate intercourse, marriage, and parenthood (Hanson et al., 1989; Haurin & Mott, 1989; Haurin & Mott, 1990; Kiernan, 1992; Kiernan & Diamond, 1983; McLanahan & Bumpass, 1988, Michael & Tuma, 1985; Young, Jensen, Olsen, & Cundick, 1991). In the U.S., McLanahan and Bumpass (1988) reported that nonblack females who spent part of their childhood in one-parent homes were at greater risk for giving birth at an early age. Michael and Tuma (1985) found that white, black, and Hispanic males and females who lived without both natural parents or who lived with a stepparent at age 14 were themselves more likely to become parents before the age of 22. However, the effect of growing up in a one-parent home on age at parenthood was only slight. In Great Britain, children who came from homes broken by the death of a parent (Kiernan & Diamond, 1983) or by separation or divorce were more likely than those from intact families to begin childbearing at a young age (Kiernan, 1992).

How might family background factors encourage adolescents to begin having babies at a young age? …