Teen Fathers More Likely to be Absent Fathers; Public Opinion Still Favors Moms at Home

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Friday, September 21, 2001

Teen Fathers More Likely to be Absent Fathers, Study Says
A recent study conducted by scholars from King’s College, London, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Otago Medical School, and published by the Institute for Research on Poverty concludes that young men who become fathers before the age of 22 are also more likely to be absent fathers. Researchers in New Zealand tracked a group of 1,037 young men from childhood to adulthood in order to determine whether some of the same factors which predict whether a young man will become a father by the time he is barely out of his teens also predict whether he will remain involved in the lives of his children.

Researchers pointed out that children from fatherless families fare much worse than children whose fathers are present, citing research by David Blankenhorn of the Fatherhood Initiative as supporting evidence. Yet they also questioned whether policy proposals to encourage young fathers to remain involved with their children will benefit children if the fathers in question are already extremely poor candidates for fatherhood-in part because they are themselves products of father-absent homes and their associated ills. Not surprisingly, young men who were born to a teenage mothers, were raised in a single-parent home, and had poor relationships with parents were more likely to become fathers at a young age. One of the strongest predictors of early fatherhood-again, not surprisingly-was having left school before the age of 16.

But the indicator that must win the prize for stating the obvious is this one: “initiation of sexual activity before age 16.” It would certainly stand to reason that the earlier one initiates sexual activity, the more likely one is to become a father at an early age. Researchers who question programs that encourage fathers to remain involved with their children, including those which encourage marriage to the mother of his children, seem to miss the point of such programs. Marriage and abstinence-before-marriage advocates do not aim to force “shotgun” marriages between irresponsible young men and often equally irresponsible young women. They seek to foster responsible behavior by encouraging young people to consider their own best interests and that of their children. Abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage fulfill both of those interests. Married men and women are generally healthier than their single counterparts, both physically and psychologically, and children in married-parent families are far better off than their peers from single-parent families by every measure. Furthermore, marriage itself forms a bond between parents that no single parenting program can replace. Researchers set out to identify predictors that determine which fathers would stay with their children and be responsible parents and which ones would not. Marriage-perhaps the strongest predictor of more responsible fatherhood-received no mention.

Public Opinion Still Favors Moms at Home
Most Americans still agree that the best possible situation for young children is at home with their mothers, according to a survey of papers by child care experts. “Caring for Infants and Toddlers,” published recently by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation found overwhelming support for what has been characterized as the “traditional family” model-father at work and mother at home with the children. A New York Times story on the report pointed out that such attitudes do not reflect the reality that some two thirds of mothers of preschoolers are in the workforce. The Times article seemingly fails to grasp that perhaps those mothers who are in the workforce would rather be at home with their children. The Times article correctly points out that such findings may have enormous consequences for welfare-to-work programs which require mothers to work-one point of contention during the welfare reform debate, which became lost in the rhetorical shuffle.

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