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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 1, No. 1
Winter 1995

Do Teen Fathers Differ from Other Young Men?

Many studies have looked at young women who become pregnant and how they differ from their peers, but the literature does not give as much information about the young men involved in early parenting. However, as several of the articles reviewed in this issue have pointed out, the teen father can play an important role.

A 1995 article in Youth and Society details a study of teen fathers both before and after they become parents. To do this, the study used national labor market data to follow a large number of teenage boys over a ten-year period. During this time, 650 of these teens became fathers. These 650 fathers were then compared to nonfathers on dimensions of education, family background, self-esteem, and locus of control. (Locus of control refers to whether a person believes he or she can make changes in the world. If a person believes this is possible, they are said to have an internal locus of control. If they believe outside forces control his or her destiny, they are said to have an external locus of control. Generally, an internal locus of control is believed to be related to better outcomes.)

Teen fathers were found to be significantly different from their peers in all dimensions. Teens who became fathers had parents with fewer years of education, had more siblings, and were much more likely to have grown up in a home below the poverty line. These households contained fewer books, magazines, and newspapers. Less than half lived with both parents until age 18.

On attitudinal measures, teen fathers were less likely to see themselves as in control of their lives, both before and after they became parents. They also reported more traditional views of gender roles. Self-esteem scores were lower for those who eventually became teen fathers, supporting similar research on teen mothers and suggesting that teens of both sexes with low self-esteem may turn to parenting as a way to raise their self-esteem.

In the short run, this strategy appeared to work for many of these young men. A significant group of teen fathers' self-esteem measures matched their parenthood-delaying peers after their children were born. However, these gains were not lasting. By seven years after birth of the child, teen fathers' self-esteem scores were again significantly below those of their peers.

The results of this study point to the need to consider the vulnerability of young men as well as young women when considering teen pregnancy prevention. It appears that the same dynamics that predispose young women toward early motherhood also are at work in young men. Poverty, family instability, low educational attainment, poor self-esteem, and an external locus of control all work together to make control over parenthood seem next to impossible.

Reference

Pirog-Good, M. A. (1995). The family background and attitudes of teen fathers. Youth and Society, 26(3), 351-376.

1995 Jordan Institute for Families