Single Parenthood and Adolescent Sexual Outcomes

Abstract

Research suggests that children of single parents are at heightened risk of precocious sexual behavior, STDs, and other risky sexual outcomes. However, few such studies have addressed the type of single-parent family (single mother or single father), or differences across other-sex parent–child dyads. While gender essentialist models assume differences among youth living only with mothers or with fathers, constructivist models propose more flexible modes of parenting that lead to more similar outcomes. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (n = 2570) on youth between the ages of 15 and 19, we compared sexually-related outcomes among adolescents, both boys and girls, who lived with a single mother or a single father. These outcomes include sexual intercourse and knowledge, use of contraception, attitudes toward intimacy and pregnancy, and diagnosis of sexually-transmitted diseases. The results from linear and logistic regression models indicated few differences between single-mother and single-father families, or between same-sex and opposite-sex parent–child matches, using p values of .05 or smaller. Our results called into question essentialist models that posit higher risks for adolescents living with a particular parent or with an opposite-sex parent.

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Acknowledgements

This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website (http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth). No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. The authors received no additional funding for this project.

Author Contributions

M.J.D.: collaborated with the design of the study and the writing of the paper. J.P.H.: collaborated with the design of the study and the writing of the paper. L.D.E.: analyzed the data and collaborated with the design of the study and the writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to Mikaela J. Dufur.

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Dufur, M.J., Hoffmann, J.P. & Erickson, L.D. Single Parenthood and Adolescent Sexual Outcomes. J Child Fam Stud 27, 802–815 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-017-0938-7

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Keywords

  • Family structure
  • Single mothers
  • Single fathers
  • Adolescence
  • Sexual behavior