By Colin Allen, published on May 1, 2003 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015
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
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
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.
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.