Introduction

This Bulletin is part of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Youth Development Series, which presents findings from the Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency. Teams at the University at Albany, State University of New York; the University of Colorado; and the University of Pittsburgh collaborated extensively in designing the studies. At study sites in Rochester, New York; Denver, Colorado; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the three research teams have interviewed 4,000 participants at regular intervals for a decade, recording their lives in detail. Findings to date indicate that preventing delinquency requires accurate identification of the risk factors that increase the likelihood of delinquent behavior and the protective factors that enhance positive adolescent development.

Boys who become teenage fathers are also likely to engage in a constellation of other problem behaviors such as noncriminal misbehavior (status offending), disruptive school behavior, and drug use. This link between young fatherhood and other problem behaviors has been established by past research, but until now, there has been no clear, comprehensive evidence of the factors that put a boy at risk for becoming a father while he is still a teenager. A clearer understanding of the precursors of teen fatherhood is needed if teenage paternity and its far-reaching consequences are to be reduced. Teenagers who engage in delinquent acts and other problem behaviors create immediate consequences for themselves and for those around them, but when they also father children, there may be serious repercussions for many years to come, even for generations.

Teenage fatherhood has received very little scrutiny—far less than teenage pregnancy or motherhood. Yet, like teen motherhood, teen fatherhood has many negative educational, financial, social, health, and other developmental consequences for these young men and their children (Lerman and Ooms, 1993; Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, and Chase-Lansdale, 1989; Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, and Morgan, 1987). National surveys have indicated that somewhere between 2 and 7 percent of male teenagers are fathers, with higher rates among inner-city and African American youth (Sonenstein, Pleck, and Ku, 1993). The rate of teen fatherhood grew substantially between 1986 and 1996 when, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 23 of every 1,000 males between 15 and 19 years of age became fathers (figure 1). This figure, however, probably undercounts the actual number of teenage fathers. Information on fathers is often missing from birth certificates, contributing to the difficulty in assessing the prevalence of teen fatherhood.

Figure 1

Prior research has shown that African American teenagers are more likely to be fathers than are white or Hispanic teenagers (Lerman, 1993). Additionally, teen fatherhood has been empirically associated with boys who come from impoverished families and neighborhoods and with those who engage in delinquency and other problem behaviors. What has not been clear until now, however, is whether delinquency can be demonstrated to be a significant risk factor for teen fatherhood when other risk factors are held constant.

This question is addressed by two studies that are part of the Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency sponsored by OJJDP. Initiated in 1986, the Causes and Correlates program is designed to improve the understanding of serious delinquency, violence, and drug use through longitudinal studies of how individual youth develop within the context of family, school, peers, and the community. The Rochester Youth Development Study and the Pittsburgh Youth Study, both ongoing research projects under the aegis of the Causes and Correlates program, have tracked a sample of urban males through their teenage years. The resulting data provide the opportunity to answer the question: "Does prior involvement in delinquent behavior increase the risk that a boy will become a teenage father?" The answer is yes, according to both the Rochester and Pittsburgh studies. Their findings are presented in this Bulletin.

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Teenage Fatherhood and Delinquent Behavior Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  January 2000