Rochester Youth Development Study
The Rochester Youth Development Studys examination of teen fatherhood was designed to identify early risk factors for increasing the likelihood of becoming a teen father. The study tracked a sample of 615 urban males from 1988 through 1996 (for more details, see "Rochester Study: Sample and Methodology"). Gathering data from regular interviews with participants and from their parents and official records, the researchers assessed a wide range of possible risk factors for teen fatherhood across 10 domains: (1) race/ethnicity, (2) neighborhood characteristics, (3) family socioeconomic position, (4) parental stress, (5) parent-child relations, (6) educational attainment and commitment, (7) early sexual activity, (8) involvement with delinquent peers or gangs, (9) individual characteristics, and (10) drug use or delinquency.
In addition to identifying how many boys become fathers over the course of their teenage years, researchers sought to discover which were the most influential risk factors in predicting whether a young man became a teen father. Finally, they investigated what impact an accumulation of such risk factors would have on an individual teenagers likelihood of becoming a father.
The Rochester study found a high rate of teen fatherhood: more than one-quarter of their sample (28 percent, or 175 teenagers) reported that they had become fathers before their 20th birthdays. The earliest reports of fatherhood occurred at age 15 years, when seven boys reported becoming fathers, with the rate increasing steadily until age 19.1
The studys analysis of the risk factors for teen fatherhood provides striking evidence that early involvement in delinquency and drug use is highly correlated with subsequently becoming a teen father, as shown in figure 2. While 70 percent of the high-frequency drug users became teen fathers, only 24 percent of the nonusers or low-users did. Similarly, while nearly half (47 percent) of the high-rate delinquents later became teen fathers, only 23 percent of the nondelinquents or low-rate delinquents did. Both relationships are statistically significant (p0.001).
In addition to finding delinquency and drug use to be significant risk factors for teen fatherhood, the study also found significant correlations with other factors, including race, neighborhood characteristics, parents level of education, the youths standardized reading score, and early sexual activity. Although teen fatherhood was not a function of any single variable, it was clearly linked to involvement in deviant behavior, according to the Rochester study. Even when researchers controlled for other variables, they found that a cluster of problem behaviorsengagement in early sexual intercourse (defined in this study as before age 16), gang membership, chronic involvement in violent behavior, and chronic drug usesubstantially increased a boys likelihood of becoming a teen father. Chronic drug use alone more than doubled the probability of teen fatherhood.
In addition to analyzing the degree of risk associated with each variable measured, the Rochester study also looked at cumulative risk: what happens as an individuals number of risk factors increases. Choosing nine risk factors significantly related to teen fatherhood, the researchers found that, as risk factors accumulated, a boys chance of fathering a child increased sharply. The results, shown in figure 3, indicate that for young men who are at risk in only a few of these areas, the probability of teen fatherhood is also fairly low. As the number of risk factors increases, the prevalence of teen fatherhood increases too, rising slowly at first. By the time a youth accumulates five or more risk factors, the teen fatherhood rate "virtually explodes," as the Rochester study states (Thornberry, Smith, and Howard, 1997:516517). Almost a third of those with five risk factors and almost half of those with six or more risk factors become teen fathers. Although it is clear that teen fatherhood is not a function of any single risk factor, when a young man faces numerous and often interacting risks, the chance that he will become a teen father jumps dramatically.