Teenage fathers face a range of life consequences compared with their peers who do not have children, including decreased educational achievements and increased likelihood of early marriage or cohabitation, a new study co-authored by a Yale School of Public Health researcher has found.
A new study co-authored by a Yale School of Public Health researcher has found that teenage fathers face a range of life consequences compared with their peers who do not have children, including decreased educational achievements and increased likelihood of early marriage or cohabitation.
A new study co-authored by a Yale School of Public Health researcher has found that teenage fathers experience an array of negative life consequences compared with their peers who do not have children. The findings show that young men with children are less likely to finish school and are more likely to skip classes, go out less often, have lower incomes and marry and have children earlier than those who do not have kids.
The study, published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that teenage fathers were far less likely than their peers to graduate from high school and more likely to be unemployed. The authors analyzed data from nearly 3,000 young men aged 14-19 who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY) when they turned 17.
Effects of Teenage Pregnancy on Society
The adolescent male has been ignored in previous reviews and discussions of adolescent pregnancy since teenage pregnancy and childbearing has traditionally been viewed as a female issue. This state of affairs is part of a larger phenomenon, namely the relative prior neglect of males in pregnancy, birth, and childrearing in general, among all age groups. The thesis of this chapter is that a full understanding of the implications and consequences of teenage pregnancy and childbearing requires knowledge of the role of the male. To achieve this aim, we will examine the male partners of teenage mothers in their role as parents and explore the determinants of assuming this role, and the consequences for the male, his partner and offspring.
Reasons for Our Earlier Neglect of Adolescent Males
Many of the reasons for our prior neglect of adolescent fathers have derived from our general lack of concern with the male role in infancy and childhood. A variety of factors contributed to this situation—theoretical models of infant development that have placed a primary emphasis on the mother-infant relationship, unfounded notions about the “biological preparedness” of mothers in contrast to fathers, and adherence to traditional models of father involvement and sex role allocation, even in the face of considerable secular change (Parke and Tinsley, 1984). Social-structural and social prejudicial factors specific to adolescent fathers also contribute to this neglect. Adolescent fathers are often unmarried during the time of conception and birth, and are generally excluded from participating in the birth and early care of their infants. This is generally the result of the powerful social prejudice that surrounds pregnancy and child birth among unmarried teenagers (Sawin and Parke, 1976).
Methodological Problems in the Area
Before launching our discussion of the research in this area, it is important to note that there are a set of general problems of method, sampling, and design which plague many of the investigations in this area.(1)
Sampling: A majority of the studies of males use volunteer samples which create serious interpretative problems due to subject self-selection. Many of the samples are drawn from clinics or other types of social agencies. Samples often tend to be too small to permit adequate statistical analysis. Breakdowns are not often given about the distribution of the subjects ages across the full spectrum of adolescence. Definitions of the adolescent age period varies across studies with some using age 21 as an upper limit and others using age 19. In some cases, older (nonadolescent) males are included if their female partner is an adolescent. Comparisons among studies are further complicated by the fact that race, marital status, and socioeconomic status vary across studies.(2)
Design: Many of the studies in this literature fail to include control groups of adolescents who are not fathers. Nor do many studies include groups of nonadolescent fathers. The majority of studies are cross- sectional, with few longitudinal studies represented in the area.(3)
Method: With few exceptions, the studies rely solely on questionnaires administered to fathers, sexually active males, or in some cases to only their female partners. Many of the questionnaires have unknown or poor psychometric properties. To date, little work based on observations of fathers with either the mother and/or infant had been executed.
RESEARCH ISSUES IN UNDERSTANDING ADOLESCENT FATHERHOOD
Although in the vast majority of cases fatherhood during adolescence is unplanned and unexpected, many young men achieve fatherhood status during the adolescent years. It is our assumption that the adolescent male in his role as father has an impact on himself, his partner, and his offspring. Moreover, the determinants of sexual activity and contraceptive use which were reviewed in the other chapters may provide little insight into another phase of the problem, namely, adolescent fatherhood. Although the research is limited and flawed, it is important to review these issues in order to give better guidance to prevention and intervention policy and programs.
In Search of Personality Profiles of Adolescent Fathers
A long-standing theoretical tradition within the social sciences is to explain behavioral outcomes in terms of psychosocial characteristics of individuals. This search is in contrast to a perspective which emphasizes situational or environmental restraints and processes as explanatory modes. Many of the stereotypes of adolescent fathers have arisen, in part, due to our penchant for personalogical explanations. Adolescent fathers have variously been viewed as unscrupulous, irresponsible, and uncontrolled who have little control over their lives.
Since research has begun to catch up with the rhetoric, little support has been found for a separate, distinctive profile of adolescent fathers. A number of studies have assessed the personality characteristics of adolescent fathers in comparison to non-adolescent fathers. These studies, in general, suggest that there is a great deal of overlap in the personality profiles of adolescent fathers and non-fathers. Some studies have focused on single variables while others have relied on a multivariate strategy.
Single Variable Studies
The most heavily researched personality factor which has been hypothesized to distinguish adolescent fathers from non-fathers is locus of control. This variable measures the degree to which an individual believes that events in his life are causally related to his own behavior. Internal locus of control refers to the belief that the individual has control over the events and outcome in his life. On the other hand, an individual who believes that the events in his life are determined by an external source (fate, luck, chance, or powerful others) is considered as having an external locus of control. It has been hypothesized that teenage fathers (and mothers) are higher in external locuses of control, which, in turn, may account for their lower use of contraception and for their inability to control their sexual desires and activities. There is no support for this hypothesis for adolescent mothers; studies of adolescent mothers have found no differences in locus of control between adolescent mothers and females who are not mothers. Results for males are inconsistent. In one study of 48 unmarried black adolescent fathers and 50 non-father adolescent controls, the fathers were higher in external control than the control adolescents (Hendricks and Fullilove, 1983). In contrast, in another study (Robinson, Barret, and Skeen, 1983) of 20 unwed adolescent fathers and 20 non-fathers, the investigators found no differences in locus of control. Similarly, Williams-McCoy and Tyler (1985) found no differences in locus of control for a sample of 24 teenage fathers and 27 non-fathers. In light of the fact that both of the studies which reported no differences utilized well standardized instruments, while the Hendricks study relied on two single questions to measure externality, it is likely that locus of control is not a robust correlate of teenage fatherhood.
Since it is unlikely that a single factor alone is likely to discriminate between fathers and non-fathers, perhaps multivariate studies would yield clearer patterns. In an early study, Paulker (1971) compared the MMPI profiles of boys who became fathers during adolescence with a matched control group of boys who did not. Since the testing was executed prior to their identification as fathers, the impact of being labeled as an adolescent father was eliminated. There were differences with the out-of-wedlock fathers scoring higher on scales which suggest higher activity and somewhat less control. However, the overlap between the test scores was extensive and only three of thirteen scales were significant. Similarly, there were no differences on the test of intellectual functioning. As Paulker (1971) concludes “any contribution these characteristics might make to out-of-wedlock pregnancy would seem to be minimal”. Fifteen years later, this conclusion still seems to have considerable validity. Williams-McCoy and Tyler (1985), in a recent study of black adolescent males (24 fathers and 27 non-fathers) assessed a variety of personality and background characteristics including locus of control, trust, coping styles, as well as whether the subject was born out-of-wedlock and the presence of a sister or brother who had an out-of-wedlock child. Only one personality factor discriminated fathers and non-fathers: interpersonal trust. Fathers were less trusting than non-fathers. Again, personality factors seem to play a relatively minor role in determining whether or not an adolescent male becomes a father.
Others confirm the general lack of differences in personality characteristics of adolescent fathers and non-fathers. In a study of 100 teenage fathers and 100 non-father, age-matched peers ranging from 14 to 19 years old, no differences were found in the psychological profiles of the two groups (Rivara, Sweeney, and Henderson, 1985) as assessed by the Offer Self-Image Questionnaire, a measure of personality adjustment which yields several subscales: impulse control, sexual attitudes, family attitudes, and mastery of the external world.
Instead, the background of the boys—namely, whether or not their own mother was a teenage parent—was the principal discriminating factor in these two recent studies. Whether this effect is mediated by parenting modeling, differences in the permissiveness of attitudes toward sexual activity the greater acceptance of teenage childbearing or some further factor is not clear.
Part of the difficulty of isolating personality profiles may be the individual vs. dyadic focus of the research. As Elster and Panzarine (1981) note: “a certain interaction of sociocultural and psychological factors between adolescent partners is necessary for unprotected intercourse to occur. Each partner brings into the relationship their own set of sexual values and psychological traits. If both adolescents have a constellation of factors which places them at high risk for pregnancy, then there is a greater likelihood that this will occur than if only one or neither of the sexual partners has this pattern” (1981: 45). Possibly, studies which assess both partners may yield more meaningful patterns. In summary, there is no firm basis for concluding that there are differences in personality of teenage males who do and do not become fathers. The search for the predictors of which male adolescents will father a child clearly should be directed elsewhere.
THE ADOLESCENT MALE AS PARENT
In order to assess the role that an adolescent plays as a parent, a number of issues will be examined including (a) their knowledge, (b) their interest in infants, and (c) their competence to perform care-giving tasks.
It is our assumption that a multivariate framework is necessary in order to understand the dynamics of the adolescent father as parent. Second, it is assumed that a developmental perspective is necessary. Third, a life course perspective is useful since this view alerts us to the competing demands and needs of the male during the adolescent period. Fourth, it should be emphasized that the determinants of adolescent sexual activity and the determinants of adolescent parenting may be independent. Fifth, assessment of the parenting role requires recognition of direct and indirect effects. Fathers can impact their offspring through direct interaction as well as indirectly through the support that he provides the child’s mother.
Developmental Restraints or Limitations
There are a variety of social, emotional, and cognitive limitations which may curtail the adolescent’s ability to parent.
Identity Formation. During adolescence, one of the major developmental tasks is the task of identity formation (Erikson, 1965). While the process is multifaceted, complex, and gradual, this process is not often fully accomplished until late adolescence or even the early 20s (Satrock, 1985; Waterman and Goldman, 1976). Moreover, evidence suggests that there is a relationship between the capacity for intimate interpersonal relationships and the achievement of a stable identity (Orlofsky, Marcia, and Lesser, 1973; Kacerguis and Adams, 1981). This potentially limited capacity for intimacy may curtail the adolescent’s ability to parent. Moreover, adolescence involves exploration and experimentation with a variety of roles, such as student, peer group member, or athlete which, in turn, may be incompatible with the parental role (Sadler and Catrone, 1983).
Cognitive Development. During adolescence, the individual’s cognitive capacities undergo a set of changes. At approximately age 12, the child moves, to use Piaget’s description, from concrete to formal operations. In contrast to the younger child, the adolescent is more capable of hypothetical-deductive thinking. “The process of deduction is no longer confined to perceived realities, but extends to hypothetical statements” (Conger and Petersen, 1984).
In this stage, he is capable of thinking abstractly about events and is able to see all possible relationships that may exist in a problem. In addition to improved problem solving skills, the future time perspective of adolescents is greater than that of younger children. Finally, they have a greater “sense of the game” (Flavell, 1985), namely that problems have solutions and an awareness of strategies for solving problems.
However, in the present context, it needs to be emphasized that there are very large individual differences in how quickly these transitions take place. Second, the process is a gradual one which continues across adolescence into adulthood (Keating, 1980). Third, adolescents or even adults often fail to employ formal operational thinking nor do they apply their highest levels of thinking to all problem areas. Emotional factors may especially interfere with the effective utilization of these capabilities. In the present context, it is likely that among adolescents, there will be great differences in their cognitive abilities to manage the planning and problem solving associated with effective parenting.
One of the main tasks of adolescence is the gradual development of independence and emancipation from the family. The early onset of fatherhood conflicts with this movement, particularly if the male is still financially and perhaps emotionally dependent on his family. This may prolong the period of dependence which, in burn, could lead to intergenerational conflict.
Although many researchers have found conflict between mother and adolescent daughter over decisions about child care and childrearing (Sadler and Catrone, 1983), conflict between adolescent fathers and their parents is likely, especially if the new family lives with the paternal grandparents (Bolton and Belsky, 1986). Moreover, early parenthood implies early onset of grandparenthood at a time when the parents may be unwilling to accept this new role (Tinsley and Parke, 1984). On the other hand, early fatherhood may result in premature emancipation prior to the time when the adolescent male was prepared to sever family ties. Being emotionally dependent on his own parents, he may be unprepared to accept the responsibilities of fatherhood. Nor are these issues separate. In a longitudinal study of college freshmen’ the attainment of a stable identity, for example, is related to a higher degree of family independence (Waterman and Waterman, 1971). Similarly, LaVoie (1976) found that male adolescents high in identity reported less parental regulation and control. Early fatherhood may inadvertently lead to heightened family dependence, which in turn, could interfere with the progress of identity formation.
At the same time that dependence and involvement in the family is decreasing, involvement in the peer group is increasing (Hartup, 1983; Gottman and Parker, 1986). Early onset of parenthood is incompatible with this heightened participation in peer activities and the necessity of curtailing or even ceasing this participation is another obstacle to acceptance of parental responsibility.
Educational and Occupational Limitations
There are educational and occupational barriers which limit the adolescent male’s capacity to assume parental responsibility. On the educational side, there is conflict between the pressure to continue formal schooling and the pressure to provide financial assistance for his partner and child. Education is less often interrupted in order to assume parental responsibilities in the case of male than female adolescents. Two factors may account for this sex difference. First, societal demands to assume the central caregiver role are stronger for females than males (Bernard, 1981), while greater support and value is placed by parents on educational achievement for males than females. (Dweck and Elliot, 1983 Hoffman, 1977).
Even if education is discontinued and employment is sought, serious problems still remain. In fact, a number of researchers have argued that a major impediment to male involvement in the fatherhood role stems, in part, from the centrality of the breadwinner concept in our definition of adequate fathering (Bernard, 1981; Pleck, 1983; Teti and Lamb, 1986) as well as our definition of masculinity (Yankelovich, 1974). Adolescent males may be reluctant to assume the fatherhood role due to their either perceived or actual inability to adequately support a family. Recent studies of adolescent employment (Lewis-Epstein, 1981; Steinberg, 1984) indicate that the jobs available are generally at unskilled labor, at minimum wage levels with little possibility of advancement. Not only is the assumption of this type of employment potentially emasculating and inconsistent with a young adolescent male’s emerging sex role concept but it also provides an inadequate basis for assuming familY responsibilities. This economic outlook for adolescent males may be a further factor which limits their acceptance of/or involvement in the fatherhood role.
Stresses of Adolescent Fathers
As a result of the early onset of fatherhood, the adolescent male may encounter a variety of stressors which may, in turn, alter his ability to cope with the social, emotional, cognitive, and practical aspects of his life. These stressors may, in turn, affect the male adolescent’s capacity to parent. A number of factors will affect the adaptation to stressful change, including the type and of stress, as well as the availability and adequacy of both personal resources and external social support systems (Parke and Tinsley, 1982; Elster and Panzarine, 1981; Elster and Hendricks, 1985).
Some recent studies have addressed the types of stressors which adolescent fathers encounter. In the first of two investigations, Elster and Panzarine (1980) interviewed 16 unwed white teenage fathers (mean age 17.4 years) enrolled in an adolescent maternity project. Nine teenagers were clinically assessed to be coping well, four to be coping moderately well, and three to be coping poorly. Six were referred for counseling because they were clinically depressed. There was a positive relationship between a measure of overall personality adjustment and the adequacy of their coping. In a later study, Elster and Panzarine (1983) interviewed 20 adolescents (mean age 17.6 years) from one to four times during the prenatal period and at four to six weeks following delivery. All conceptions occurred premaritally, but most couples had married by the time of delivery. Stressors were grouped into four categories. First, the teenage fathers expressed vocational-educational concerns, which consisted primarily of general worries regarding how they were going to support their new family, finishing school, or finding employment. These concerns were highest during the first trimester and appeared to remain at a relatively high level through gestation and into the postpartum period. All subjects expressed this concern. A second set of stressors focused on health. This included the present health of the mother, immediate health, and future welfare of the child and labor and delivery concerns. Due to the possible sampling bias in these studies, the generality of the findings is unclear.
Health concerns were shared by 94 percent of the sample, but peaked during the third trimester and dropped off after delivery. A third source of stress was relationships with partners’ parents, friends, and their feeling of alienation from their church. Seventy-six percent of the sample expressed these concerns but this source of stress was greatest during the first trimester and appeared to decrease across time. Surprisingly, only 35 percent of the males were concerned about parenting. This concern was also shifted across time. It appeared during the second trimester, dropped slightly in the latter part of pregnancy, and increased again postpartum.
Other studies suggest that these concerns are not restricted to white adolescents. Hendricks, Howard, and Caesar (1981), in a study of 95 black teenage fathers found that 55 percent of the males expressed concerns about interpersonal relationships, which included a wide range of problems (relationships with their family of origin, restriction of freedom, problems with parents of their partner, difficulties of seeing their child). Others (23 percent) reported problems related to external factors, such as lack of employment, limited money, and lack of education opportunities. Fourteen percent reported no problems.
In a later study (Hendricks, 1984), young Hispanic fathers reported a similar range of stresses including occupational, financial tensions, school problems, interpersonal problems with both their relatives and their partners, concern about their children’s health and future. Together, the data suggest a common set of stressors across different ethnic groups of teenage fathers.
Although this work must be viewed with caution due to the unrepresentative nature of the samples and the lack of comparison groups of older fathers, the studies do underscore the fact that fatherhood elicits a variety of stress-producing concerns for adolescent males. Moreover, other studies (McNall, 1976; Miller and Myer-Walls, 1983) suggest that older parents experience many of the same concerns. However, it is likely that the stresses are exaggerated for adolescents due to their more limited psychological and financial capacities. The implications of these issues for intervention will be explored later in this chapter.
It is clear that there are serious conflicts between the tasks and goals of males during the adolescence period and the requirements for effective parenting. Next, we turn to an evaluation of the male adolescent’s level of involvement with their infants, knowledge of infant development, their interest in infants, and their competence in executing the parental role.
The Level of Involvement of Adolescent Fathers
A common misconception among researchers and health care professionals alike is that adolescent fathers have little contact with their offspring. There are two parts to this myth. Many believe that: (1) the majority of teenage births occur out-of-wedlock, and (2) unmarried fathers have little contact with the mother of the child after the birth. The data contrast markedly with these notions. First, although slightly more than half (54 percent) of all births to teenagers are conceived out-of-wedlock, only about 35 percent of all births to teenagers occurred out-of-wedlock (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1976). However, between the early 1960s and early 1970s, the proportion of children born to unwed adolescent mothers has doubled (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1976).
McCarthy and Menken (1979) in an analysis based on the 1973 National Survey of Family Growth found that of 2,258 adolescents who conceived out-of-wedlook, 68 percent had married by the time of delivery. Similarly, Zelnik, Kantner and Ford (1981) in their national survey of unmarried adolescents found that 64.8 percent of the white females in the 1971 cohort and 61.8 percent of the whites in the 1976 survey married while pregnant. There are marked race differences, since only 9 percent and 10.4 percent of the black respondents in the 1971 and 1976 cohorts, respectively, married during a first pregnancy. These figures are consistent with other reports: according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 39 percent of white and 90 percent of black teenage births in 1982 were out-of-wedlock.
According to Lerman (1985) 65 percent of all 18–25-year-old males who were fathers in 1983 had married after the birth of their first child. The decision to marry has important implications, since the probability of being an absent father is lower if marriage occurred before rather than after the birth of the first child. Eighty-three percent of non-absent fathers had married before the child’s birth.
Second, several studies of unmarried adolescent fathers show a surprising amount of paternal involvement for extended periods following the birth. For example, in a study of 138 unmarried adolescent mothers in Minnesota, Nettleton and Cline (1975) found that 50 percent of the 45 mothers who did not relinquish custody of their infants dated the father during the infant’s first year of life. Moreover, 20 percent of these 45 eventually married him. Similarly, 46 percent of the 180 unwed mothers Lorenzi and his colleagues (Lorenzi, Klerman, and Jekel, 1977) interviewed in New Haven had either married the child’s father or were seeing him on a regular basis 26 months after the birth. Although the number of women who have regular contact with the men who fathered their children declined over the child’s first two years (56 percent at 3 months, 40 percent at 15 months, and 23 percent at 26 months), the percentage of marriages to the father increased over this same period (7 percent by 3 months, 17 percent by 15 months, and 23 percent by 26 months). A small but constant proportion of the mothers at each time point (18 percent) reported that they saw the father only occasionally. In addition, most of the fathers who visited the mothers also visited the child. In addition, Furstenberg (1976) noted similar rates of visitation as late as five years after the birth. Twenty-one percent of the fathers were living with their children, another 20 percent visited their offspring on a regular basis, while 21 percent visited occasionally.
The most comprehensive report of the extent to which young fathers live with their children comes from a recent study by Lerman (1985). This investigator used NLS data to examine these issues on a national sample from 1979 to 1983 of young men who were 14–21 in 1979. In 1979, 40 percent of young fathers aged 14–21 were absent or lived away from at least one of their children. Across the period of 1979 to 1983, as the sample aged, absent fathers as a proportion of all fathers declined from 40 to 33 percent.
Finally there are complex arrangements that often obscure the level of involvement of young fathers. Lerman (1985) found that 5 percent of absent fathers 18–21 years of age and nearly 20 percent of the 22– 25-year-olds—often the partners of adolescent mothers—lived with some but not all of their children. Failure to recognie the multiple sets of living arrangements may have underestimated the level of involvement of young fathers.
There are large racial differences in the level and pattern of absent fatherhood among young men. In light of the high proportion of unmarried young black mothers, it is expected that there will be a high percentage of young black men who are absent fathers. Among 22-year-olds, over one of four young black men had become absent fathers; in contrast to only 3 percent of white and 9 percent of Hispanic 22-year-olds were absent fathers (Lerman, 1985). Age of onset of fatherhood is an important correlate of becoming an absent father (Lerman, 1985). Of black men ages 23–25 in 1983, about one third of absent fathers had their first child at age 18 or under. In contrast, only 13 percent of black fathers with their children had a first child by age 19. A similar picture was evident for whites. Among 23–25-year-old white males, 16 percent of the absent fathers vs. 7 percent of non-absent fathers had their first child before age 19. However, only about 10 percent of 23–25-year-old absent fathers had their first child by age 16, which suggests that very young onset of fatherhood is unusual. In contrast, age of onset of sexual activity is another correlate of absent fatherhood. Absent fathers initiated sexual activity earlier than average. Sixty-three percent of absent fathers (22–25-year-olds) were sexually active before age 16 in congrast to 25 percent of child less men and 32 percent of fathers living with their children.
The rates of contact between fathers and children vary as a function of whether or not the non-residential father had previously been married to the child’s mother (Furstenberg and Talvitie, 1980). In the ease of the formerly married fathers, only 41 percent had no contact over the past year, while 30 percent had at least one contact during the prior year. In the case of the never married fathers, half had visited their children on at least one occasion during the past year and about a fourth maintained regular contact with their offspring, visiting at least once a week. An interesting and consistent pattern in these studies is that a significant number of fathers establish a “stable” live-in relationship with their child only after having been residentially separated from their child for one or two years (Furstenberg, 1976; Lorenzi et al., 1977)—a period that is often necessary to complete formal education and/or secure regular employment. As will be discussed later, a delay in regular father-child contact does not necessarily preclude the development of a satisfactory father-child relationship or diminish the father’s impact on his child’s later development.
Family background factors are associated with the extent to which males will become absent fathers as opposed to fathers who live with their children. According to Lerman (1985), young men who became absent fathers were more likely than other young men to come from families on welfare. Nearly 27 percent of absent fathers lived in families who received welfare, in contrast to only 8–9 percent of other yount men. Similarly, income levels of families of males who became absent fathers were lower. While these figures suggest that economic disadvantage is a correlate of fathering involvement, the relationship is much stronger for white and Hispanic populations than for black males.
In presenting these data, it is important to stress that we are not suggesting that all, or even the majority, of relationships between unmarried adolescent parents are supportive, mutually satisfying, and stable. In fact, there is considerable data to the contrary. It is well established that divorce rates among teenage parents are much higher than in the general population (Furstenberg, 1976; Lorenzi et al., 1977; Sauber, 1970). Furthermore, teenage mothers often have unrealistic expectations about the father’s marriage plans. In the Lorenzi study, of the 47 percent of the mothers who expected to marry the father, only 36 percent had married him by the baby’s second birthday. However, such figures have been overemphasized in the literature and may in part be responsible for the predominantly negative view of the adolescent father that has characterized the literature.
Moreover, in some cases of both adolescent as well as older fathers, mothers function as a gatekeeper and limit the degree of father involvement in infant and child care (Parke and Tinsley, 1984; Parke and Beitel, 1986). Especially among adolescent fathers, the partner’s parents may limit the degree of contact that the father is permitted to have with either his child and/or the mother.
Knowledge of Development
Adolescent parents may be less well prepared for parenting than older parents, as assessed by their knowledge of norms for infant development. In one study of teenage couples, de Lissovoy (1973) assessed both maternal and paternal knowledge of motor, language, and social developmental norms and found that both parents, but particularly fathers, were not familiar with developmental norms. Teenage parents expected such accomplishments as social smiling, sitting alone, pull up to standing, first step and the appearance of the first word to occur much earlier than can realistically be expected. Furthermore, both mothers and fathers expected toilet training to be accomplished by 24 weeks, and fathers expected obedience training and recognition of wrong-doing to be achieved by 26 and 40 weeks respectively. In combination with the fathers’ unrealistic expectations concerning how frequently infants cry, it is not surprising that de Lissovoy noted a frequent occurrence of physical discipline being used by the fathers in that sample. The lack of knowledge of developmental norms is not limited to teenage parents. De Lissovoy (1973) also found similar low levels of knowledge of infant development in a group of unmarried high school students of the same age and socioeconomic status as the teenage parents. However, caution should be taken in interpreting this study in light of the restricted sample (rural working class), the limited range of developmental norms investigated, the absence of statistical treatment of the data, and the lack of a nonadolescent comparison group.
A more methodologically sound investigation by Epstein (1979) confirmed that teenagers’ knowledge of infant development is deficient— at least in some areas. In contrast to the earlier work of de Lissovoy (1973), the adolescent females in this sample were accurate in their knowledge of perceptual and motor development but deficient in their knowledge of cognitive, social, and language development. Particularly in the case of younger infants (under 8 months of age), the teenage mothers underestimated the infant’s cognitive, social, and language skills. In contrast to de Lissovoy, these mothers expected too little of their infants and viewed them as “creatures of physical needs and growth without corresponding mental activity” (Epstein, Note 2, p. 4).
However, this study has limitations. First, no males were included. Second, there was no adult comparison group; therefore, it is not clear whether or not the degree of error is greater for adolescent and nonadolescent parents. Two more recent studies have included adults in their design.
Parks and Smeriglio (1983) compared parenting knowledge of primiparous black adolescent mothers with primiparous adult mothers. They found no differences between mothers of different ages. However, since most mothers answered correctly, a ceiling effect may have obscured any potential age-related differences. In the other available study, Field et al. (1980) compared teenage mothers and older mothers in terms of their knowledge of infant development. Although adult mothers had more realistic expectations regarding developmental milestones than teenage mothers, differences in parity and marital status across the two groups make interpretation difficult.
With the exception of the exploratory study of de Lissovoy (1973), parallel studies of the knowledge of developmental timetables of adolescent fathers are not available. However, in light of the more limited opportunities that males are afforded to learn about child care during their own socialization, it is likely that adolescent males would show even more marked deficiencies.
If this lack of knowledge among teenage parents is substantiated by future research, it has important implications since lack of knowledge may affect the nature of their interactions with their infants (Parke, 1978). As Chamberlain (1979) and his colleagues found, a gain in mother’s knowledge of child development was significantly correlated with the reported occurrence of more positive contact with their children.
Interest in Infants in Adolescent Males
In spite of the potential parenting skills which males and females may exhibit, the related question concerning interest in parenting merits attention as well. In a series of studies by Feldman and her colleagues (Feldman, Nash, and Feldman, 1981) in which the responsiveness of adolescent males and females to an infant in a laboratory setting, then found that 14- to 15-year-old males were more likely than females to ignore social bids by infants. (See also Frodi and Lamb, 1978.) In a related test, when asked to choose their favorite pictures from a variety of different photographs, male adolescents chose fewer baby pictures than did female adolescents (Nash and Feldman, 1981). On the other hand, these differences are not stable traits which differentiate males and females; instead the sex differences disappeared in older teenagers. By 18 to 19 years of age, Nash and Feldman found no difference in responsivity to babies between males and females. Teti and Lamb (1986) suggest that the “tendency to avoid female-typed behavior—may be especially pronounced in early- to mid-adolescence as a defense against the uncertainties of sexual maturation and identity formation”. Independent indices of self-identity and sex role definition among adolescent males and females of different ages would help clarify this issue.
Fathers and Infant Care: Competence and Performance
In spite of the lack of preparation, interest and possibly knowledge, it is important to examine directly fathers’ competence in caregiving. Since there has been only a very limited amount of research on the nature of interactions between adolescent fathers and their infants, work on older fathers and their offspring will be examined as well. Briefly, these studies show that it is important to distinguish competence and performance. Although fathers generally perform caregiving functions less than mothers, observational studies indicate that older fathers are capable caregivers. Specifically, they are responsive to infant cues during feeding (vocalizations, feeding disturbances) and the amount of milk consumed by babies when fathers and mothers bottle feed their infants is approximately equal (Parke and Sawin, 1976, 1980).
Are adolescent fathers competent? There has been a surprisingly small amount of attention devoted to the fathering ability of adolescent males. In contrast, there has been a number of studies of adolescent mothers. As these are reviewed elsewhere (Hofferth, this volume; Lamb and Elster, 1985), it need only be noted that, in general these studies suggest that teenage mothers are less sensitive, show less positive affect, and engage in less verbal stimulation. In spite of interpretive problems (Lamb and Elster, 1985), the studies of teenage mothers suggest a less than optimal pattern of parenting.
The only available observational study of teenage father-infant interaction was recently reported by Lamb and Elster (1985). Teenage mothers (average age 17.7 years and their male partners (age range 16.5 to 29.9 years) were observed together in their homes interacting with their six-month-old infants. While mothers engaged in more interaction of all types with their infants (affectionate, stimulative, and care-related than fathers, there were no differences between fathers of different ages. Moreover, the patterns observed were comparable to the findings of comparable studies of adult parents and infants (Belsky, Gilstrap and Rovine, 1984; Lamb, 1981). However, this study presents interpretative problems.
First, the lack of a contrast group of adult parents makes direct comparison with the earlier studies in which deficits in maternal behavior were found difficult. Second, some of the qualitative dimensions of parental behavior, such as responsiveness and verbal stimulation which discriminated between adolescent and adult parents, were not measured in this study. Therefore, it is unknown whether adolescent fathers resemble adolescent mothers in the use of inappropriate parental behaviors.
There are a variety of lines of evidence which are relevant to the issue of paternal competence. First, studies of the level of inadequate parenting such as child abuse among adolescent fathers reveals that abuse rates are not higher for adolescent fathers where the father is directly implicated as the abusing agent (Bolton and Belsky, 1986).
Evaluation of competence, however, involves more than the mere lack of inappropriate parenting behaviors. To evaluate more directly the quality of father-infant interaction requires direct observation.
Finally, comparison of fathers of differing ages who are all partners of a teenage mother may not be the appropriate comparison. A better comparison group for contrasting teenage fathers is non-teenage (i.e., adult) fathers whose female partners are also adult. Previous research (Nakashima and Camp, 1984) suggest that older fathers paired with adolescent mothers are more similar to adolescent fathers than to older men paired with older women.
On the basis of the available data, no firm conclusions can be drawn concerning the competence of teenage fathers.
The Adolescent Father’s Impact on the Child and Mother
Given the variations in the level and nature of adolescent father involvement during infancy, it is likely that the father influences his infant’s development in a number of ways. Specifically, we can distinguish between direct and indirect influences (Parke, Power, and Gottman, 1979). Direct influences involve those instances where the father influences his infant’s social or cognitive development as a result of direct interactions between father and infant. Indirect influences are those cases where the father influences infant development through his effects on another person, with that other person directly influencing the infant.
Direct influences. Fathers influence both the social and cognitive development of their infants. Let us consider each of these developmental domains.
The degree of infant social responsiveness varies with the amount and type of paternal involvement (Parke, 1979, 1981; Lamb, 1981). For example, in their study of 8–9 month-old infants, Pedersen and Robson (1969) found that paternal involvement in routine caretaking, emotional investment in the infant, and the stimulation level of paternal play, were positively related to the male infant’s attachment to his father (as assessed by the age of onset and intensity of greeting behavior directed to the father). In light of this work, it is not surprising that infants in the first year of life show no consistent preference for either mother or father in nonplay situations (Clarke-Stewart, 1978a; Lamb, 1977a)—a clear challenge to Bowlby’s (1969) ethological theory which suggested that infants will prefer their mothers to their fathers.
Just as the quantity and quality of nonadolescent father-infant interaction is related to the social development of infants, there is some preliminary evidence suggesting that the involvement of adolescent fathers with their children facilitates their child’s social development in the preschool years (Furstenberg, 1976). In a follow-up study of adolescent parents, Furstenberg compared the social adjustment of preschool children of adolescent parents who had married and therefore had regular father contact, with children of mothers who remained single. The children in the father-absent homes were lower on a variety of social adjustment measures: efficacy, trust, and self-esteem, but not delay of gratification.
According to Furstenberg (1976), lack of father participation is related to another index of social adjustment-the number of behavioral problems which were reported by mothers. In father-absent families, 43 percent of the children had two or more behavioral problems and almost half of the children had two or more chronic problems in families in which the father had only occasional contact with his child. In contrast, less than one-third of the children living in unbroken homes experienced two or more chronic problems. Similar findings have been reported by Barnard (1978) who found that infant physical accidents were lower as the level of father participation increased.
There also appear to be positive direct influences of involvement, by either nonadolescent or adolescent fathers, on the cognitive development of their children as well. In their study of 5- and 6-month-old male infants (Pedersen et al., 1979), Bayley mental test scores were positively correlated with the amount of father contact. In addition, the cognitive performance of male infants from father-present homes was higher than male infants from father-absent homes. Girls were apparently unaffected by the level of father involvement or by his absence. In a more detailed examination of the components of father-infant interaction in a sample of 16- to 22-month-old infants, Clarke-Stewart (1978a) reported that the fathers’ physical play best predicted boys’ cognitive development, while the quality of the fathers’ verbal interaction was a better predictor for female infants’ cognitive status. Studies with preschool-age children show a similar trend: the availability and level of father participation is positively related to preschool cognitive performance, especially for boys (Radin, 1976). Studies of children of adolescent parents are consistent with this general picture. Specifically, Furstenberg (1976) found that cognitive performance of preschoolers was positively related to the continuity of the relationship between an adolescent father and his child. Children from homes in which parents married early and remained married performed at a higher level than children from homes where they had irregular or no contact with their fathers.
Further indirect evidence of the impact of paternal involvement comes from a recent study by Furstenberg and Talvitie (1980). The focus of the study was on the extent to which children share their fathers’ name, these investigators found a clear relationship between naming patterns and paternal involvement in families of never married fathers. When children bore their father’s name, they were much more likely to have regular contact with their fathers and to receive economic assistance from them. Though the paternal surname was connected to greater paternal involvement for both sexes, boys who also bore their fathers’ given names enjoyed even higher levels of interaction and contact. Although bestowal of the father’s name may be merely an “expression of prior sentiment, an acknowledgment of the father’s willingness at the time of birth to play an active part in the child’s upbringing,” (Furstenberg and Talvitie, 1980) other evidence suggests that naming may, in fact, play a causal, although minor role in maintaining father involvement. The extent of father contact with his child at five years was predicted better by naming pattern than by degree of paternal interaction at one year after birth. Second, the sons of formerly married couples had more contact with their biological fathers and received greater support if they bore their names. The findings suggest that naming patterns might have some direct impact on the nature of father-child relationships.
In turn, sons with the same names as their fathers were reported to have fewer behavioral problems (e.g., temper tantrums, dishonesty, bedwetting) and received more favorable ratings on their personal qualities (e.g., grown-up, happy, obedient) at five years of age. On the cognitive skills side, as indexed by the Preschool Inventory, the same named boys were significantly higher (63rd percentile) than children not named after their fathers (43rd percentile). It is assumed that naming implies greater paternal involvement, which, in turn, resulted in better social and cognitive developmental outcomes.
Indirect influences. Direct interaction between fathers and children is only one way in which fathers influence their offspring’s development. Many paternal effects on the infant or child are mediated through the father’s relationship with the mother or other family member. (For a general model of direct and indirect influences in the father-mother-infant triad, see Parke, Power, and Gottman, 1979.) The quality of the father-mother relationship at various times, including during pregnancy, at childbirth, and after the birth of the infant, is an important determinant of the mother’s attitudes and behavior, which, in turn, may indirectly affect the infant’s social and cognitive development. The types of support—social-emotional, physical, or financial—will determine the nature of that indirect influence. Moreover, the impact on the mother can be either positive or negative.
One of the most common ways in which adolescent fathers influence the mother is through the level of financial support they provide (Furstenberg, 1976; Lorenzi et al., 1977). In their study, Lorenzi et al. found that at 3 and 15 months postpartum, approximately 64 percent of their unmarried teenage mothers were receiving financial aid from the infant’s father. In fact, most couples appeared to have reached an agreement on financial matters—81 percent of the unmarried mothers who anticipated financial support from the father were receiving it at these two time points.
Results from the Baltimore study (Furstenberg, 1976; Furstenberg and Talvitie, 1980) indicate a pattern of decreasing financial support across time. At one year, nearly three-fifths of the males were providing financial assistance to the family. By five years, only one-third of the previously married fathers as well as never married fathers were providing any economic aid. Moreover, the level was modest (median of $600 per year and $1,000 per year for never married and formerly married fathers respectively). In contrast, the married fathers at the five-year follow-up were nearly all responsible for the financial support of the child. Lerman (1985) in his national survey of young fathers confirms many of these findings concerning the payment of child support. Even when fathers are absent, Lerman found that 39 percent of these fathers reported making a child support payment in the prior year. A number of factors affected the child support payment pattern. Absent fathers living with at least one own child were half as likely to make child support payments as absent fathers living away from all children (21 percent vs. 42 percent). It is assumed that these fathers were utilizing their financial resources to support the children with whom they were residing. Marriage influenced payment patterns, with fathers who were never married being less likely to make child support payments. Over 60 percent of separated or divorced absent fathers reported making child support payments, as compared to only 32 percent of the never married group. Again the impact of marital status was less evident for black than white or Hispanic males. Similarly, these patterns were modified by employment status and age. Absent fathers who were not employed made fewer and lower payments than young men who held jobs or were in the military. Marital status continued to be important even among employed fathers. Among employed absent fathers, 40 percent of never married, but 64 percent of those separated or divorced made child support payments. Moreover, the payments were approximately 20 percent of their earnings, which is nearly the proportion expected of absent fathers with one child, according to the state of Wisconsin child support program.
Such support operates directly by making available to the mother many of the necessities for adequate infant care; and it indirectly affects the quality of mother-infant interaction by influencing the mother’s feelings of economic security. Altering the mother-infant relationship might, in turn, affect the infant’s subsequent development.
Adolescent fathers may indirectly influence their offspring by providing emotional support as well. Feiring and Taylor (1980) found that maternal-infant involvement was positively related to other mother’s support from a secondary parent—67 percent of these secondary parents were fathers. Emotional support from the father is particularly important during adolescence in light of the high degree of social prejudice and interpersonal tension characterizing adolescent pregnancy and parenthood (Furstenberg, 1976). However, the level of emotional support that married adolescent parents provide for each other is not high. In a recent study (Lamb, Elster, Peters, Kahn, and Tavere, 1986) of 272 adolescent mothers and their partners, only 33 percent of the women and 44 percent of the men identified their partners as one of two sources of emotional support—in spite of the fact that these couples were married. For adolescent mothers who had not married their male partners by the time of delivery, the rate of identification of the father as a support figure was only 25 percent. If the relationship between the adolescent mother and her parents becomes stressed as a result of the pregnancy, then we might expect that the support of the father of the child becomes particularly important in relieving this stress. In turn, such a reduction in maternal emotional stress might lead to an increase in her subsequent involvement with her infant. However, in light of the recent data from the Lamb et al. study (1976), adolescent fathers do not appear to be a major source of emotional support for their partners.
Although providing support is one of the most common ways in which adolescent fathers have an indirect effect on their infant’s development, there are other types of indirect influence. Consensus in childbearing attitudes, the father’s perception of the mother’s caretaking competence, and other qualities of the husband-wife relationship are all related to maternal involvement or competence in studies of nonadolescent fathers. (See Parke, Power, and Gottman, 1979 for review.) It is likely that in these and other ways, young fathers have an indirect influence on their infants’ cognitive and social-emotional development. Furthermore, we might expect that the less the degree of actual father participation in infancy (fathers who visit versus those who live-in), the more important indirect influence becomes.
However, the impact of the adolescent father should neither be overemphasized nor should it be assumed that the impact will always be positive and helpful. In some cases, the involvement of the adolescent father can have negative consequences for the mother. This is illustrated by a recent prospective study of child abuse. In this study, 960 adolescent mothers have been followed by Bolton and his colleagues (1985). 190 of these adolescent mothers were assessed at “high risk” on the basis of a variety of psychological, social, contextual, and child characteristics (see Parke and Collmer, 1975; Belsky, 1980; 1984). A follow-up study of these mothers, the fathers or the males currently involved with the mothers and the health behavioral characteristics of the children at age two was executed. Only 9.5 percent of the adolescent mothers initially assessed as at risk were officially reported to have abused their child by two years of age. Of particular interest in the present context is the role of the father. While no fathers were directly implicated in the cases of reported abuse, Bolton’s analysis suggested that fathers may indirectly increase the likelihood of abuse. First, the fathers in the high-risk group were older than the mothers, but only 50 percent were adolescents. They were poorly educated (mean=10th grade) and occupationally at the lower end of the employment spectrum and one-third were unemployed. Regardless of age, only 15 percent of the couples reported sharing any child care responsibilities, while other problems were evidenced (21 percent alcohol problems, 11 percent drug problems); 7 percent were reported by the mother to be violent and 9 percent had criminal records. All of these factors were slightly more prominent among fathers paired with mothers who eventually maltreated the children (Bolton, MacEachron, Laner, and Gar, 1985). The father’s role is further implicated by the fact that maltreating mothers were twice (44.4 percent) as likely to be married than were the non-maltreating mothers (21.5 percent). However, 20 percent of these married fathers did not live with the mother and child and only 50 percent contributed to the financial support of mother and child. Unfortunately, the mother’s contribution to these outcomes by selecting men with these characteristics was not assessed in this work and merits consideration. Nevertheless, this study underscores the necessity of considering the negative as well as the positive impact of adolescent fathers on mothers and children.
As Bolton notes, “One buffer in the family situation seemed to be provided by the young fathers’ families. No officially reported maltreatment has yet occurred among adolescent parents who live with the fathers’ parents or who are receiving financial support from the fathers’ parents. In the absence of this external support system however, the presence of a male, at least in the ‘high risk’ group appeared to increase risk” (Bolton and Belsky, 1985). However, the determinants of when grandparental support will be available to young adolescents is unclear. It is well documented that maternal grandparents often assist the adolescent mother in rearing her infant (Furstenberg and Crawford, 1981) but the extent to which the level of this support varies as a function of the degree of involvement of the male partner is still not clear. As Lamb et al. (1986) recently reported one determinant of grandparental response to pregnancy is marital status of the adolescent couple. Both maternal and paternal grandparents (69 percent and 85 percent respectively) were more positive about the pregnancy if the couple was married than if they married between conception and delivery (22 percent and 26 percent respectively) or not at all (20 percent and 34 percent for maternal and paternal grandparents respectively). In view of the potentially important role of non-partner sources of support among adolescents, increased attention to the determinants of this support is needed.
In other cases, the fathers’ impact may be negligible. For example, among adolescent parents, Furstenberg (1976) found that neither marriage patterns nor paternal involvement were related to either maternal commitment or performance. Maternal warmth, confidence, and the general quality of maternal relations were no higher when the father lived with or interacted regularly with his child than when he was absent. Furthermore, there was no evidence that separation affected either the mothers’ level of interest in their children nor their evaluation of themselves as parents. Maternal performance was not markedly affected by deferral of marriage. Finally, those who remained unmarried were no less interested in their children, and no less competent or confident as caregivers. There was one complicating factor—marriage to another male. Women who married someone other than the child’s father appeared to encounter more difficulty in managing motherhood. In comparison to those who married the father of the child, the adolescent mothers who married other men were less confident in their parenting role, had more behavior problems with their children, and were more critical of their children.
What accounts for this general pattern of minimal impact of the father on the mother’s behaviors? According to Furstenberg (1976):
Ironically, a partial reason that the young mothers managed as well as they did with so little assistance from the child’s father may be the generally high rate of family dissolution among lower-income blacks. While the broken family is hardly the preferred pattern, it is not an uncommon one, and women are prepared to raise their children with little or no help from the father. Childbearing assistance from relatives and friends also helps to offset the low involvement of the father. Moreover, since little is expected of him, even the minimal assistance provided by a nonresidential father is welcomed and appreciated. As some indication of this, over three-fourths of the mothers reported that the nonresidential father enjoyed a positive relationship with his child, a figure nearly as great as that for the residential father. In the eyes of the mother and probably the child as well, the nonresidential father comes to be accepted for what he can offer rather than denigrated for what he cannot (p. 193).
As these studies demonstrate, the father’s indirect impact in the family can vary greatly and effort needs to be directed toward isolating the determinants of the nature of impact on the mother.
THE IMPLICATIONS OF EARLY FATHERHOOD FOR THE ADOLESCENT MALE
In this section, the implications of achieving fatherhood during adolescence for the male himself will be examined. Three aspects will be discussed: (1) marriage and divorce rates; (2) education attainment; and (3) economic and occupational outcomes.
Impact on Marriage and Divorce Rates
Among both men and women, Card and Wise (1978, 1981) found that adolescent childbearing was associated with a young age at first marriage. Second, the proportion of teenage parents who were separated or divorced was higher than that of their classmates at all time periods (1, 5, and 11 years after expected high school graduation). Even after controlling for age of first marriage, the association between age at first birth and subsequent separation or divorce was significant.
Moreover, adolescent childbearers had been married a greater number of times than the classmates. This was true for both males and females at both 5 and 11 years after high school. In view of the disruptive effects of divorce on both adult and children’s social and emotional lives (Hetherington and Camara, 1984), this poses a serious problem.
There are clear educational implications of early childbearing for both males and females. Card and Wise (1978) in their analysis of Project Talent data found that there is a direct linear relationship between age at first birth and amount of education five and eleven years after the date of their expected high school graduation. It is generally assumed that the consequences of early childbearing are more direct and severe for young females than for young males (Card, 1977; Card and Wise, 1978). While males are not immune to the impact of early fatherhood, as Marsiglio (1986) notes, “many of the consequences are contingent upon the father’s willingness to assume a degree of responsibility in raising his child. In the context of American society assuming this responsibility usually entails some type of commitment to the mother, usually in the form of marriage” (1985). To the extent that the adolescent father disassociates himself from the child and/or the mother, he may minimize the negative impact of early paternity on their own social or educational trajectories.
In view of this distinction, it is necessary to keep separate in our discussion, males who do and do not accept the social and economic responsibilities associated with early fatherhood.
A number of factors influence the adolescent fathers’ educational attainment. Timing of the onset of fatherhood is important. Morgan (1984), in a study of high school drop-outs, found that the drop-out rate was higher among 10th and 11th graders than among 9th and 12th graders. Moreover, those who are one or more years behind their normal age-grade are more likely to drop out than those who are on schedule educationally. The implication of these data for adolescent fatherhood is clear: early timing of fatherhood may accelerate the rate of drop-outs from the educational system.
Recently, Marsiglio (1986) drew upon the NLSY Study, a nationally representative panel study of youth between 14 and 22 who were interviewed in 1979 and again in 1983. The probability of dropping out of high school for those who had a birth while in their teens (.44) is higher than for those who either fathered a child when they were 20 or older (.22) or who were childless at the time of the 1983 follow-up survey. Stated differently, only 67 percent of teenage fathers graduated from high school in contrast to 87 percent of males who had not been teenage fathers. Moreover, among the teen fathers who graduated twice as many earned a G.E.D. (12 percent in comparison to non-teen fathers (6 percent). The importance of this finding stems from the fact that the G.E.D. may not be treated as equivalent to a regular high school diploma in the employment marketplace. There are some racial differences as well: white and Hispanic males showing more disruption of their high school careers as a result of fathering a child than black males. Fifty-three percent of white teenage fathers graduated in contrast to the 91 percent graduation rate of white males who did not father a child as a teenager. The figures were 49 percent vs. 75 percent for economically disadvantaged whites and 39 percent vs. 72 percent for Hispanic males. Although there was still a significant impact on black males, the effect was less pronounced. Sixty-eight percent of black teenage fathers graduated in comparison to 76 percent of non-fathers. Marsiglio (1986) suggests that “part of the reason why there is only a modest difference between black teenage fathers and their comparison group in terms of high school completion probabilities has to do with the social acceptability of early childbearing within the black subculture, evidenced by the tendency for blacks to have their first child out of wedlock” (p. 15). Surprisingly, drop-out rates were not affected by marital status or whether or not the father lived with their child. One limitation of the study which Marsiglio (1986) acknowledges is the inability to take into account temporal sequencing of educational measures relative to birth events. Therefore, it is unknown whether a male had already dropped out of school at the time when he achieved fatherhood. An alternative interpretation is, therefore, that males who leave school early may be more likely to achieve early onset of fatherhood.
Support for this possibility comes from Lerman (1985) who found that young men who become absent fathers had poorer academic records prior to becoming a father. Of 18–20 year-olds with no children in 1979, only 12 percent of the mena who remained childless by 1983 were school drop-outs in contrast to 40 percent of the men who became absent fathers and 23 percent of men who became fathers living with their children. Similarly, Lerman (1985) reported that 36 percent of absent fathers and 27 percent of present fathers had not completed more than 11 years of schooling in contrast to 17 percent of childless young men. Lower levels of school completion may have either caused or resulted from lower than average math and reading skills. Lerman (1985) found a consistent profile of lower scords on mathematics and word knowledge and reading comprehension among young fathers in comparison to childless young men.
Finally, a combination of early marriage and parenthood may be another correlate of lower academic attainment. Initially married youths were much more likely to be high school dropouts (77 percent) than adolescent fathers who either married between conception and birth or not at all (43.5 percent). (Lamb, Elster, Peters, Kahn and Travers, 1986).
Together, these studies indicate that the direction of causality between early fatherhood and educational attainment is probably bidirectional and further research is necessary to determine when early fatherhood leads to early termination of education and when the reverse is true.
The occupational impact of adolescent parenthood is again greater for females than males, according to Card and Wise (1978). For males, at one and five years after high school, more males who had been adolescent fathers were working than was true of their classmates.
Employment patterns, however, vary depending on whether of not young fathers are living with their children or absent. Lerman (1985) found that young men who lived with at least one of their children had higher rates of employment than absent fathers. However, 11 years after high school when the two groups were 29 years old, there were no differences. Early fathering was related to early entry into the labor force, but was unrelated to any long-term rate of labor force participation. Eleven years after high school, adolescent fathers were overrepresented in the blue collar job categories, and underrepresented in the professions, reflecting their divergent educational attainment.
However, there were no significant difference in income between adolescent fathers and their classmates. As Card and Wise note, this may be only temporary. “At 11 years after high school, their classmates’ investments in education have only begun to be reflected in increased income. It may be expected that as time goes on, the classmates’ income will surpass that of the less educated teenage fathers” (Card and Wise, 1978).
In contrast, females have less prestigious jobs have lower incomes and are less satisfied with their jobs than their classmates at all time periods even though the labor force participation rates do catch up and surpass those of their classmates as the latter begin their childbearing years.
These differences between males and females reflect the fact that females, in most cases, assume greater responsibility than males for rearing the offspring.
CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS
An understanding of the adolescent father requires recognition of te multiple developmental tasks that face adolescents. While current research suggests that adolescent males are generally not ready for fatherhood, little research has systematically documented the ways in which the developmental status (social, cognitive, emotional and physical) of the male either affects his likelihood of becoming a father during adolescence or alters the quality of his enactment of the fathering role. The approach to adolescent fatherhood in terms of an analysis of developmental tasks recognizes the individual variability among adolescents not only across age but also within the same age period. This approach recognizes that there are significant individual differences among adolescent males and the tendency to treat adolescents as a single class has led to a failure to systematically examine these variations across adolescents (Belsky and Miller, 1986).
Patterns of contact and involvement with either the mother and/or their child are highly variable across adolescent males. Multiple patterns ranging from the extremes of marriage and cohabitation to no contact are found with many variations of levels and types of contact. However, the rates of contact are sufficiently high to correct prior assumptions that adolescent fathers are, as a group, uninvolved and uninterested. The determinants of living arrangements and type of contact between adolescent fathers and their partners and children are poorly understood.
It is important to recognize that the male partners of adolescent mothers represent not only adolescents but a wide range of older, nonadolescent males as well. With few exceptions (e.g., Nakashima and Camp, 1984) there is very little known about the similarities and differences between male partners of adolescent mothers who are adolescents themselves or older. In light of the fact that educational and occupational stability is more likely to be achieved among older vs. younger males, the age status of the male partner may have important implications for the impact of the onset of parenthood for the males themselves as well as for the role that they could play in financial and social support of their partners and offspring. Limiting our analysis of adolescent childbearing and childrearing to adolescent male partners alone is clearly an oversimplification of the problem.
Not surprisingly, we still know relatively little about the adolescent males’ abilities to parent. First, more research is required concerning the adolescent males’ knowledge concerning child developmental timetables. By comparing male and female knowledge, we can evaluate the common assumption that females are better informed concerning the course of infant development and therefore better prepared to assume a parenting role than males. Adequate observational studies of adolescent fathers and mothers interacting with their infants and children are needed in order to evaluate the actual parenting competence of adolescent males and females. Evaluation should include fathers alone with their infants as well as observations in the family context of mother, father, and infant. Available research indicates that adolescent fathers do not differ from older fathers of adolescent mothers; future studies of non-adolescent fathers whose partners are also non-adolescents are necessary in order to determine whether adolescent and adult father differ in their parenting skill.
What are the effects of adolescent fathers on their offspring? Tentative evidence suggests that paternal contact is associated with enhanced social and cognitive development of children, but the amount of evidence is still too meager to draw strong conclusions about the beneficial or deliterious effects of adolescent fathers on their offspring. Research which addresses patterns of contact over time between fathers and their children in both married, unmarried as well as separated and divorced fathers are ncessary in order to determine whether both quality and quantity of parental contact affects the development of their offspring. In light of the long-term behavioral and educational problems of both boys and girls evidenced in the follow-up of the Baltimore project (Furthenberg and Brooks-Gunn, 1985), evaluation of the moderating impact of the father on these outcomes would be worthwhile.
Another issue is the relative impact of the male partner in comparison to other potential childrearing agents who may be available to assist the adolescent mother such as the maternal and paternal grandparents on the subsequent development of both the infant and the mother. Is it better to involve the male partner in the early childcare of the infant even if this means interfering with the educational and occupational trajectory of these individuals? Does involvement of the male partner modify the level of support provided by maternal or paternal grandparents? If decreased involvement of grandparents is a result of increased male participation, what are the consequences of this decreased involvement for the mothers and/or infants?
Adolescent fathers support their partners socially, emotionally and financially. A significant proportion of adolescent fathers contribute financially—even among absent fathers, with previously married fathers contributing more than never-married fathers. More research on the determinants of financial support patterns among absent adolescent fathers is needed. The role of social and emotional support provided by adolescent males for their partners is still poorly understood and research concerning the quality of relationships—marital and non-marital—between adolescents would be worthwhile.
This research would be helpful in understanding the high levels of divorce among adolescents. In addition exploration of the impact of marital dissolution on the young males themselves in terms of their fathering role would be of interest.
Finally, occupational and educational status is related to adolescent fatherhood. While the occupational impact of achieving fatherhood during adolescence is less for males than females, further evaluation of life-time career trajectories of adolescent fathers is necessary to estimate the long-range implications. Educational attainment of adolescent fathers is clearly lower than childless adolescents. However, more research is needed to evaluate the causal direction of these effects in light of evidence that early termination of formal education may be a precursor of adolescent fatherhood.
In summary, by increasing our attention to the role of the male in adolescent pregnancy, childbearing, and childrearing, we may not only better understand the issues but be guided to more effective prevention and intervention programs and policies.
An overall recommendation concerns the general lack of sensitivity to the age of the adolescent male in the current literature. It is important to examine the age of the adolescent male in future studies and if possible go beyond age per se and begin to specify the male adolescent’s social, emotional, and cognitive status. This approach recognizes that there are significant individual differences among adolescent males. The tendency to treat adolescents as a single class has led to a failure to recognize the variations across adolescents (Belsky and Miller, 1985). By recognizing this diversity, clearer intervention recommendations could be offered, which are more sensitively gauged to the developmental status of the target population. For example, it is unlikely that parenting programs for very young males will be either successful or advisable in terms of their probable benefit for either the mother or child, due not only to the relative immaturity, but also due to their educational and employment status.
More work is necessary to understand the male role in contraception. Specifically, the determinants of male vs. female utilization of contraception needs more examination. This issue needs to be explored in the context of adolescent social relationships to determine more clearly the male role in decision making in different types of social relationships (i.e., casual vs. steady) and at different phases of a stable dating relationship.
More attention should be paid to the male role in the resolution of pregnancy outcomes. Little information is available concerning the male’s role in abortion decisions nor are the effects of the abortion experience on males well understood. Similarly, more information concerning the role of male partners in contrast to family and friends in adoption decisions would be helpful.
Not surprisingly, we still know relatively little about the adolescent males’ abilities to parent. First, more research is required concerning the adolescent males’ knowledge concerning child development timetables. By comparing male and female knowledge, we can evaluate the common assumption that females are better informed concerning the course of infant development and therefore better prepared to assume a parenting role than males.
Second, adequate observational studies of adolescent fathers and mothers interacting with their infants and children are needed in order to evaluate the actual parenting competence of adolescent males and females. Evaluations should include fathers alone with their infants as well as observations in the family context of mother, father, and infant.
Third, what are the effects of adolescent fathers on their offspring? Research which addresses patterns of contact over time between fathers and their children in both married, unmarried as well as separated and divorced are necessary in order to determine whether both quality and quantity of paternal contact affects the development of their offspring. In light of the long-term behavioral and educational problems of both boys and girls evidenced in the follow-up of the Baltimore project (Furstenberg and Brooks-Gunn, 1985), evaluation of the moderating impact of the father on these outcomes would be worthwhile.
More attention needs to be given to the development, implementation, and most critically, the systemic evaluation of programs aimed specifically at males. In light of the different developmental course followed by males and females in the timing and pattern of the emergence of sexual behavior and in the differential role of biological and social factors in determining sexual behavior of males and females, it is questionable whether the usual strategy of similar programs for males and females is any longer justified. However, the differential role of biological factors in determining sexual behavior for males and females does not imply that social intervention strategies aimed at modifying sexual behavior of males will not be successful. The relationship between biological responses and the social environment is clearly bidirectional; just as hormonal variables can influence social behavior, social factors, in turn, can modify hormonal responses (Astwood, 1972; Rosenblatt and Siegel, 1981).
While programs to modify sexual behavior, especially efforts to encourage the delay of onset of sexual activity, continue to be developed, the success of these programs has been limited. Therefore, in combination with these programs, intervention strategies aimed at more effective utilization of contraception among adolescent males need to continue to be developed as well.
Finally, parenthood programs aimed at adolescent males need to be developed and evaluated. Caution in the implementation of parenthood programs for males should be exercised in light of the mixed evidence concerning the effects of male adolescent involvement in a parental role on mother and offspring. It is important to recognize the wide diversity of forms that adolescent father involvement assumes, from married and live-in arrangements to infrequent visitor and/or financial contributor (Sullivan, 1985); in turn, programs need to be sensitively gauged to meet the variety of definitions that fatherhood assumes among this population.
In summary, by increasing our attention to the role of the males in adolescent pregnancy, childbearing, and childrearing, we may not only better understand the issues but be guided to more effective prevention and intervention programs and policies.
Teen Fathers Teenage Pregnancy
“We found that being a teenage father was associated with an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, including preterm birth, low birth weight and neonatal deaths,” said Dr. Shi Wu Wen, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa Department of Epidemiology & Community Medicine.
In the study, Wen’s team used data from the National Center for Health Statistics to collect information on 2,614,966 births in the United States between 1995 and 2000. To isolate the effects of the teen fathers’ age on the outcome of pregnancy, the researchers compensated for the mother’s contribution by choosing women 20 to 29 years old.
Women in this age group are less likely to be affected by fertility problems, which can have an effect on birth outcomes, Wen noted. “We also excluded infants with birth defects,” he said. “This may explain why we didn’t see adverse effects amongst older fathers.”
The researchers found that babies born to teenage fathers had a 15 percent increased risk of premature birth, a 13 percent increased risk for low birth weight, and a 17 percent increased risk for being small for gestational age.
These babies also had a 22 percent increased risk of dying within the first month after birth, and a 41 percent increased risk of dying in the first four weeks to one year after birth, although the absolute risk was small — less than 0.5 percent, the researchers said.
Babies of fathers 40 and older did not experience the same risks, Wen said.
“The public has paid attention to teenage pregnancy, but mostly to teenage mothers,” Wen said. “But here we show that teenage fathers are also at high risk. The public and health agencies should pay attention to teenage fathers.”
The findings are reported in the February issue of Human Reproduction.
Wen said it’s not clear why infants of teenage fathers are at greater risk for health problems. However, he suspects that social factors such as income and lifestyle play a role.
“Young fathers have less stable employment,” Wen said. “In addition, teenagers are at risk for more risky behavior like smoking and alcohol and drug use. These are known to be associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes.
“Teenage fathers may also be emotionally less stable,” he added. “We know that stress is a risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes as well.”
One expert agrees that more attention should be paid to teenage fathers and their contribution to the health of their children.
“Paternal age is an ignored and understudied and underestimated contributor to neonatal outcomes,” said Dr. F. Sessions Cole, director of newborn medicine and head of the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “It’s 50 percent egg and 50 percent sperm that form the baby, and 100 percent of the blame is attributed to mothers,” he said.
“The risk-taking behaviors of adolescent males probably are a significant part of the reason why their sperm are associated with more adverse neonatal outcomes,” Cole said. “These risk-taking behaviors impact sperm in ways we don’t know.”
Cole believes teenage fathers, like teenage mothers, should receive prenatal counseling. “That way, a prospective father can get some sense of what he can do to optimize the outcome,” he said.