Father Absence, Childhood Stress, and Reproductive Maturation in South Africa
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The hypothesis that father absence during childhood, as well as other forms of childhood psychosocial stress, might influence the timing of sexual maturity and adult reproductive behaviors has been the focus of considerable research. However, the majority of studies that have examined this prediction have used samples of women of European descent living in industrialized, low-fertility nations. This paper tests the father-absence hypothesis using the Cape Area Panel Study (CAPS), which samples young adults in Cape Town, South Africa. The sample contains multiple racial groups (blacks, coloureds [mixed race], and whites) and includes both males and females. Dependent variables include age at menarche, age at first sexual intercourse, and age at first pregnancy. Childhood stress is measured by father absence by age six (either never lived with father or lived with father some but not all years) and an index of childhood exposure to violence (measuring threatened or actual verbal or physical abuse). The hypothesis received no support for effect on age at menarche but was supported for age at first sex and first pregnancy. The model showed stronger support for coloureds and whites than blacks and had no predictive power at all for black males.
KeywordsMenarche Pregnancy Father absence First sex South Africa
I thank Ann M. Beutel, Paula Sheppard, and three anonymous reviewers for comments on the paper. The Cape Area Panel Study Waves 1-2-3 were collected between 2002 and 2005 by the University of Cape Town and the University of Michigan, with funding provided by the US National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Wave 4 was collected in 2006 by the University of Cape Town, University of Michigan and Princeton University. Major funding for wave 4 was provided by the National Institute on Aging through a grant to Princeton University, in addition to funding provided by NICHD through the University of Michigan.
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