Family Structure and the Transition to Early Parenthood

Sandra Hofferth, University of Maryland

This paper describes how family structure and processes shape the transition to early fatherhood and motherhood among a relatively disadvantaged group of youth. The data come from the linked Child-Mother and Young Adult Samples of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979 (NLSY79), which provide information on the children of the women of the NLSY79 from birth until they enter young adulthood. The results suggest that both females and males growing up with a single parent or in an unstable family transition to parenthood early, particularly nonresidential fatherhood for males. These direct effects are stronger for girls than for boys. For both males and females the effects are strongly mediated by parenting processes and adolescent behaviors, and shaped by economic circumstances. Having experienced nontraditional family structures in childhood, acts to reduce the likelihood that males father their first child within marriage, demonstrating how changes in family structure alter family structure patterns over time and generations.

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Presented in Session 22: Fertility Timing and Transitions