Absentee Fathers and Teen Pregnancy

Life without a dad can mean trouble for teen girls. A father's absence ups a daughter's risk for early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy, according to a recent long-term study.

Previous research has attributed a girl's increased risk of pregnancy to the possible consequences of a father leaving--lower family income, conflict at home and weak parental monitoring. Yet even when these factors were taken into account, the study found that a father's absence in itself seemed to put daughters at risk for having children early.

Girls whose fathers left either before they were born or up to age 5 were seven to eight times more at risk of becoming pregnant as an adolescent than girls living with their fathers. A father's departure between ages 6 to13 suggested a two to three times greater risk of becoming pregnant.

Bruce Ellis, Ph.D., a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, analyzed two groups of girls--520 in the U.S. and 242 in New Zealand--throughout their entire childhood. Interviews over the years with both parents and children examined family demographics, parenting styles, childhood behavior problems and academic performance.

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Ellis suggests that daughters with mothers who date may end up experiencing sexual behavior earlier in life. Or, a lack of a father may encourage unstable bonds with men, he says.

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