Nonresident Fatherhood and Adolescent Sexual Behavior: A Comparison of Siblings Approach

Rebecca M. Ryan, Georgetown University

Although voluminous research has linked nonresident fatherhood to riskier sexual behavior among adolescents, neither the causality of those links nor the mechanism accounting for them has been well-established. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 – the Young Adult survey (CNLSY79-YA), the present study addresses both questions by comparing the sexual development of siblings discordant in age at father departure from the home and examining results across behavioral (age at first intercourse), biological (pubertal timing), and cognitive (attitudes about sex and childbearing) sexual outcomes (N = 5792). Findings indicate that nonresident fatherhood, beginning either at birth or during middle childhood, leads to an earlier sexual debut for girls, but not boys, an effect likely explained by altered attitudes toward sex and reproduction rather than accelerated pubertal development. Implications for policies to curb the incidence of risky sexual behavior in adolescence are discussed.

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Presented in Session 15: Family Structure, Parenting, and Child Well-Being