Pittsburgh Youth Study

Overview

The Pittsburgh Youth Study’s objective was to investigate the relationship of teen fatherhood to delinquency, both preceding fatherhood and for 1 year after the birth of the child. From 1988 to 1993, the Pittsburgh researchers followed a sample of 506 inner-city adolescent males from the public schools (for more details, see "Pittsburgh Study: Sample and Methodology"). Through regular interviews with participants, parents, teachers, and officials, researchers collected data on a large number of variables such as race or ethnicity, early sexual activity, school achievement and attachment, peer relationships, neighborhood, family, mother’s level of education, participants’ attitudes, individual characteristics, drug use, and delinquency.

The study sought to discover how much similarity exists between risk factors associated with delinquency and those associated with young fatherhood: that is, which risk factors are associated with both and which factors are uniquely associated with one or the other outcome? In addition to investigating the relationship between prior delinquency and teen fatherhood, the researchers also compared young fathers with matched controls to look at the impact of fatherhood on subsequent delinquency: Did delinquency diminish after a boy became a teen father, did it stay at the same level, or did it increase?

Results

The Pittsburgh researchers report that 12 percent of their sample (62 teenagers) became fathers before their 19th birthdays (as the Pittsburgh study defines teen fatherhood). These 62 teenagers fathered a total of 82 children. Fatherhood occurred by age 14 in the first instance, with the rate rising steadily to age 18.

In the Pittsburgh study, while early drug use was not a significant risk factor for teenage fatherhood, delinquency was. Figure 4 shows the relationship between teen fatherhood and delinquency and drug use in the Pittsburgh sample. The proportion of high-frequency drug users who became teen fathers (16 percent) was only slightly higher than the proportion among nonusers or low-users (12 percent). However, the proportion of high-rate delinquents who became fathers (19 percent) was significantly higher than that of nondelinquents or low-rate delinquents (9 percent). Young fathers were more than twice as likely to be delinquent as nonfathers.

Figure 4

The Pittsburgh study found several other significant risk factors for teen fatherhood, including cruelty to people, being raised in a family on welfare, and drug exposure (as distinguished from drug use; drug exposure refers to having been offered drugs or having witnessed a drug deal, and is a possible index to a boy’s neighborhood or peers). When no other factors were taken into account (i.e., a bivariate analysis was used), drug exposure had the highest correlation with teen fatherhood of any factor apart from race. Other significant risk factors in the Pittsburgh study that were consonant with the Rochester study’s findings include race, early sexual activity, low level of mother’s education, and low school achievement. When the researchers controlled for other factors (employing a multi-variate analysis), being older than other boys of the same grade in school was the strongest predictor of teen fatherhood in the Pittsburgh study.

In analyzing the variables related to both teen fatherhood and delinquency, the Pittsburgh researchers found that the risk factors for teen fatherhood are a subset of the risk factors for delinquency. That is, teenage fathers demonstrate the same characteristics as young men who engage in delinquent acts; in every instance where a variable was significantly related to young fatherhood, it was also related to delinquency. On the other hand, not every factor that is predictive of delinquency predicts teen fatherhood.

The Pittsburgh study also investigated the impact of teen fatherhood on subsequent delinquency to discover whether fatherhood might reduce delinquent acts. In fact, they found the reverse was true. For this second part of the Pittsburgh study, the 62 young fathers in the sample were matched with 62 nonfathers (matched controls) of similar age, race, and neighborhood. The findings are shown in table 1. A review of their records prior to becoming fathers indicates that the future young fathers were no more likely than their matched controls to be in the serious delinquent group. However, over the next 4 years, they were 2.5 times more likely than their controls to have qualified as "varied serious delinquents" (for definition, see "Pittsburgh Study: Sample and Methodology"). Fathering a child is associated with an even great-er increase in delinquent behavior. In the same year that these young men reported becoming fathers, the odds of their committing varied serious delinquent acts jumped (odds ratio=7.5, meaning they were 7.5 times more likely than nonfathers to commit serious delinquent acts). In the year after they became fathers, these odds remained relatively high (odds ratio=4.2).

Table 1

According to the Pittsburgh study, "young fathers tended to be troubled young men who were significantly more likely than their matched controls to have engaged in varied serious acts of delinquency in the year of fatherhood and in the year after" (Stouthamer-Loeber and Wei, 1998:64). Young fathers tended to commit more covert delinquent acts than violent offenses. For example, in the year that they became fathers, young fathers were three times more likely than nonfathers to have been involved in car theft or burglary, while there was no difference between the two groups in the likelihood of their committing violent offenses.

On a number of other measures of problem behavior, according to the Pittsburgh study, young fathers appeared considerably worse off than youth in the control group. They were more likely than nonfathers to have had a court petition alleging delinquency (72 percent vs. 41 percent), to be drinking alcohol frequently (39 percent vs. 19 percent), to be involved in drug dealing (41 percent vs. 21 percent), or to have dropped out of school (60 percent vs. 37 percent).

The hopeful hypothesis that teen fatherhood might encourage young males to become more responsible and to assume the tasks of helping to establish and support a family is not borne out by this study. Instead, becoming a father appears to exacerbate an already troubled and stressful life for these young men, at least during the first year of fatherhood.

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Teenage Fatherhood and Delinquent Behavior Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  January 2000