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Transitions to Fatherhood

Sandra Hofferth and Frances Goldscheider have just published an article entitled “Family Structure and the Transition to Early Parenthood” in Demography

With the rise in divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing in the last quarter of the 20th century, more children have experienced a single mother family, a nonresident father, and residential father turnover (the departure of their biological father and the addition of stepfathers). This research project examined the long-term consequences of changing family structures for children’s own transitions to parenthood, together with whether there were any potential tools or levers to change the link between the type of family one grows up in and the family one forms as a young adult. The data come from the Children and Young Adult sample of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979. The results demonstrated a strong association between experiencing instability or living with a single mother in childhood and early parenthood by both men and women outside marital unions. Having experienced multiple transitions as a child reduced the odds that men fathered their first child within marriage and increased the odds that it occurred within cohabitation or in a nonresidential relationship. Women growing up with a single parent were more likely to have their first child as a single parent. This strong cross-generational link has likely amplified the long-term trend toward greater single motherhood and nonresidential fatherhood that occurred over the past decades. However, two key points emerged with the potential to break the linkage. Parenting practices were important in whether or not early experiences led to early parenthood among both males and females. Having access to resources while growing up was the other potential means to break the linkage. Families with a stronger economic position (higher income) were much less prone to these nontraditional experiences.