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Absentee Fathers and Teen Pregnancy

Missing fathers linked to daughters' early sexual activity. A
father's absence ups a daughter's risk for early sexual activity and
teenage pregnancy, according to a recent long-term study.

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.

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.