Just Living Together: Implications of Cohabitation on Families, Children, and Social Policy

By Alan Booth; Ann C. Crouter | Go to book overview

10
Of Fathers and Pheromones:
Implications of Cohabitation for Daughters'
Pubertal Timing
Bruce J. Ellis
University of Canterbun), New Zealand

One of the most dramatic implications of cohabitation for children's lives is its relation to biological family composition. Children living in married-couple families are about twice as likely as children living in cohabiting-parent families to live largely with both biological parents (81% vs. 40%; Manning, chap. 8, this volume). Conversely, children living in cohabiting-parent families are about three times as likely as children living in married-couple families to live with a biologically unrelated parent (60% vs. 19%; Manning, chap. 8, this volume). Furthermore, given the short life span of cohabiting unions, even children who currently live with both biological parents in cohabiting families are likely to experience changes in the biological composition of their families in the future.

Although I concur with Manning's assertion that “the implications of cohabitation for children's lives should depend on whether they are living with two biological parents or one biological parent and their parent's partner” (p. 122), the fact is that most cohabiting-parent families are not biologically intact families. Thus, children in cohabiting families are at increased risk of biological father absence and stepfather presence. In this chapter I discuss some possible consequences of biological father absence, stepfather presence, and father involvement on daughters' pubertal development.


OVERVIEW

The onset of pubertal development has typically been viewed as an important marker of the transition into adolescence and is accompanied by major social and cognitive changes (Conger, 1984; Feldman & Elliot, 1990). Variations in the timing of pubertal maturation—levels of physical and sexual development of adolescents in comparison to their same-age peers—has received considerable research attention. The most consistent finding to emerge from the literature is that early onset of puberty in girls is associated with negative health and psychosocial outcomes. In particular, early maturing girls are at greater risk later in life for breast cancer (e.g., Kampert, Whittemore, & Paffenbarger, 1988 & Vihko & Apter, 1986) and unhealthy weight gain (e.g., Ness, 1991; Wellens et al., 1992); have

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