Early Family Environment, Reproductive Strategy, and Contraceptive Behavior: Testing a Genetic Hypothesis

  • Warren B. Miller
  • David J. Pasta


Recently, Belsky, Steinberg, and Draper (1991) theorized that the amount of stress and discord experienced by children in their early family environment helped shape the timing and nature of their adolescent reproductive behavior. Here we examine that relationship and the affect it may have on contraceptive practice during the young adult period, unifying our approach with a theory of social bonding. We collected data on family background, adolescent development, and current contraceptive behavior from a convenience sample of 178 mostly unmarried couples. We used LISREL to construct a two-sex, constrained model of variable relationships across the three time periods, while simultaneously adjusting for selected social-demographic and personal traits and for major situational factors. We found that levels of both affection and abuse in the respondent’s family of origin had multiple effects on both adolescent development and adult contraceptive behavior, even when father absence and mother’s age at first birth were controlled. We interpret these findings as suggesting the action of a genetic switch that affects developmental timing. We discuss some possible cellular processes that could underly such a mechanism and the probable adaptive consequences of its effects on bonding. We then reconceptualized our findings in terms of the constructs of implicit and explicit motivation. We conducted a second LISREL analysis. The results indicate that our measure of implicit childbearing motivation, which is based on the adolescent development variables and is presumably in large part non-conscious, is far more important in the determination of pregnancy avoidance motivation than our measures of explicit childbearing motivation, which are self-attributive and mostly conscious. We discuss how these findings might relate to earlier work in which only explicit childbearing motivations were measured.


early family environment reproductive strategy contraceptive behavior childbearing implicit social bonding 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adler, N.E., & Tschann, J.M. (1993). Conscious and preconscious motivation for pregnancy among female adolescents. In A. Lawson & D. Rhode (Eds.), The Politics of Pregnancy: Adolescent Sexuality and Public Policy pp. 144–158. New Haven: Yale University.Google Scholar
  2. Atkinson, J.W. (1982). Motivational determinants of thematic apperception. In A. Stewart (Ed.), Motivation and Society(pp. 3–40). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  3. Attanasio F., Andrasik F., Blanchard, E.B., & Arena, J.G. (1984). Psychometric properties of the SUNYA revision of the psychosomatic symptom checklist. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 7, 247–258.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bagozzi, R.P. (1992). The self-regulation of attitudes, intentions, and behavior. Social Psychology Quarterly, 55, 178–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Belsky, J. (1996). Attachment, mating and parenting: An evolutionary interpretation. Human Nature, 8, 61–81.Google Scholar
  6. Belsky, J. (1997, June). Conditional and alternative reproductive strategies: Individual differences in susceptibility to rearing experience. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, Tucson, AZ.Google Scholar
  7. Belsky J., Steinberg, L., & Draper, P. (1991). Childhood experiences, interpersonal development, and reproductive strategy: An evolutionary theory of socialization. Child Development, 62, 647–670.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boyer, D., & Fine, D. (1992). Sexual abuse as a factor in adolescent pregnancy and child maltreatment. Family Planning Perspectives, 24, 4–11.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buss, D.M., & Craik, K.H. (1983). The act frequency approach to personality. Psychological Review, 90, 105–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Campbell, B.C., & Udry, R. (1995). Stress and age at menarche of mothers and daughters. Journal of Biosocial Science, 27, 127–134.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chilman, C. (1979) Adolescent Sexuality in a Changing American Society: Social and Psychological Perspectives. Washington, D.C.: USDHEW, PHS, NIH.Google Scholar
  12. Ge X., Conger, R.D., & Elder, G.H. Jr. (1996). Coming of age too early: Pubertal influences on girls vulnerability to psychological distress. Child Development, 67, 3386–3400.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gerra G., Caccavari R., Delsignore R., Passeri M., Fertonani Affini G., Maestri D., Monica, C., & Brambilla, F. (1993). Parental divorce and neuroendocrine changes in adolescents. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia, 57, 350–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Graber, J.A., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Warren, M.P. (1995). The antecedents of menarcheal age: Heredity, family environment, and stressful life events. Child Development, 66, 346–359.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hayes, CD. (Ed.) (1987) Risking the Future: Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy, and Childbearing(Vol. 1). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  16. Hibbard, R.A., Ingersoll, G.M., & Orr, D.P. (1990). Behavioral risk, emotional risk, and child abuse among adolescents in a nonclinical setting. Pediatrics, 86, 896–901.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Hogan, D.P., & Kitagawa, E.M. (1985). The impact of social status, family structure, and neighborhood on the fertility of black adolescents. American Journal of Sociology, 90, 825–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Insel, T.R. (1992). Oxytocin-a neuropeptide for affiliation: Evidence from behavioral, receptor audiographic, and comparative studies. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 17, 3–35.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jöreskog, K.G., & Sörbom, D. (1996). LISREL 8: User’s Reference Guide. Chicago, IL: Scientific Software International.Google Scholar
  20. Kandel, E.R., Schwartz, J.H., & Jessel, T.M. Principles of neuroscience, Third edition. Norwalk, CT: Appleton and Lange.Google Scholar
  21. Kaprio J., Rimpela A., Winter T., Viken, R.J., Rimpela, M., & Rose, R.J. (1995). Common genetic influences on MBI and age at menarche. Human Biology, 67, 739–753.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Kirby, D. (1997). No Easy Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy. Washington, D.C.: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.Google Scholar
  23. Legro, R.S., Dietz, D.W., Comings, D.E., Lobo, R.A., & Kovacs, B.W. (1994). Association of dopamine D2receptor gene haplotypes with anovulation and fecundity in female hispanics. Human Reproduction, 9, 1271–1275.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Luster, T., & Small, S.A. (1997). Sexual abuse history and number of sex partners among female adolescents. Family Planning Perspectives, 29, 204–211.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mantzoros, C.S., Flier, J.S., & Rogol, A.D. (1997). A longitudinal assessment of hormonal and physical alterations during normal puberty in boys. V. Rising leptin levels may signal the onset of puberty. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 82, 1066–1070.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McClelland, D.C., Koestner, R., & Weinberger, J. (1989). How do self-attributed and implicit motives differ? Psychological Review, 96, 690–702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Melis, M.R., & Argiolas, A. (1995). Dopamine and sexual behavior. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 19, 19–38.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Meyer, J.M., Eaves, L.J., Heath, A.C., & Martin, N.G. (1991). Estimating genetic influences on the age-at-menarche: A survival analysis approach. American Journal of Medical Genetics, 39, 148–154.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Miller, B.C., & Bingham, C.R. (1989). Family configuration in relation to the sexual behavior of female adolescents. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 51, 499–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Miller, W.B. (1986). Proception: An important fertility behavior. Demography, 23, 579–594.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Miller, W.B. (1992). Personality traits and developmental experiences as antecedents of childbearing motivation. Demography, 29, 265–285.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Miller, W.B. (1994a). Childbearing motivations, desires, and intentions: A theoretical framework. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 120, 223–258.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Miller W.B. 1994b. The relationship between childbearing motivations and attitude toward abortion among married men and women. Family Planning Perspectives 26 165–168Google Scholar
  34. Miller, W.B. (1995). Childbearing motivation and its measurement. Journal of Biosocial Science, 27, 473–487.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Miller, W.B., & Pasta, D.J. (1995). Behavioral intentions: Which ones predict fertility behavior in married couples? Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25, 530–555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Miller, W.B., & Pasta, D.J. (1996). The relative influence of husbands and wives on the choice and use of oral contraception, a diaphragm, and condoms. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 26, 1749–1774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Miller, W.B., Pasta, D.J., MacMurray J., Chiu C., Wu, S., & Comings, D.E. (1999a). Genetic influences on childbearing motivation: A theoretical framework and some empirical evidence. In L.J. Severy & W.B. Miller (Eds.), Advances in Population: Psychosocial Perspectives (Vol. 3, pp. 53–102). London,Jessica KingslGoogle Scholar
  38. Miller, W.B., Pasta, D.J., MacMurray J., Chiu C., Wu, S., & Comings, D.E. (1999b). Dopamine receptor genes are associated with age at first sexual intercourse. Journal of Biosocial Science, 31, 43–54.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Miller, W.B., Pasta, D.J., MacMurray J., Muhleman, D., & Comings, D.E. (1999). Genetic influences on childbearing motivation: Further testing a theoretical framework. In J.L. Rodgers, D.C. Rowe, & W.B. Miller (Eds.), Genetic Influences on Human Fertility and Sexuality. Mahweh, MA: KluwerGoogle Scholar
  40. Moffitt, T.E., Caspi A., Belsky, J., & Silva, P.A. (1992). Childhood experience and the onset of menarche: A test of a sociobiological model. Child Development, 63, 47–58.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mullen, P.E., Martin, J.L., Anderson, J.C., Romans, S.E., & Herbison, G.P. (1996). The long-term impact of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children: A community study. Child Abuse and Neglect, 20, 7–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Newcomer, S., & Udry, J.R. (1984). Mothers’ influence on the sexual behavior of their teenage children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 46, 477–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Newcomer, S., & Udry, J.R. (1987). Parental marital status effects on adolescent sexual behavior. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49, 235–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Panksepp, J. (1998). Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Plant, T.M. (1994). Puberty in primates. In E. Knobil & J.D. Neill (Eds.), The Physiology of Reproduction, (Vol. 2). New York: Raven Press.Google Scholar
  46. Plant, T.M., & Lee, P.A. (1995). The Neurobiology of Puberty. Bristol, UK: Society for Endocrinology.Google Scholar
  47. Putnam, F.W., & Trickett, P.K. (1997). Psychobiological effects of sexual abuse: A longitudinal study. Annals of New York Academy of Sciences, 821, 150–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rainey, D.Y., Stevens-Simon, C, & Kaplan, D.W. (1995). Are adolescents who report prior sexual abuse at higher risk for pregnancy? Child Abuse and Neglect, 19, 1283–1288.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rodgers, J.L. (1983). Family configuration and adolescent sexual behavior. Population and Environment: Behavioral and Social Issues, 6, 73–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sapolsky, R.M. (1997). The importance of a well-groomed child. Science, 277, 1620–1621.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Speier P., Melese-d’Hospital, I.A., Tschann, J.M., Moore, P.J., & Adler, N.E. (1997). Predicting contraceptive vigilance in adolescent females: A projective method for assessing ego development. Journal of Adolescent Health, 20, 14–19.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Stern M., Northman, J.E., & Van Slyck, R.M. (1984). Father absence and adolescent “problem behaviors”: Alcohol consumption, drug use, and sexual activity. Adolescence, 29, 301–312.Google Scholar
  53. Stevens-Simon C. & Reichert S. 1994. Sexual abuse adolescent pregnancy and child abuse A developmental approach to an intergenerational cycle. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 148 23–27Google Scholar
  54. U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1982). 1980 Census of Population: Classified Index of Industries and Occupations(Final Edition). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  55. Wang Z., Yu, G., Cascio, C, Liu Y., Gingrich, B., & Insel, T. R. (1999). Dopamine D2 receptor-mediated regulation of partner preferences in female prairie voles. (Microtus ochrogaster): A mechanism for pair bonding? Behavioral Neuroscience, 113, 602–611.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wierson M., Long, P.J., & Forehand, R.L. (1993). Toward a new understanding of early menarche: The role of environmental stress in pubertal timing. Adolescence, 28, 913–924.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Wind, T.W., & Silvern, L. (1994). Parenting and family stress as mediators of the long-term effects of child abuse. Child Abuse and Neglect, 18, 439–453.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Winter, D.G., John, O.P., Stewart, A.J., Klohnen, E.C., & Duncan, L.E. (1998). Traits and motives: Toward an integration of two traditions in personality research. Psychological Review, 105, 230–250.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Warren B. Miller
  • David J. Pasta

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations