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June 28, 2009

 

(A similar piece ran in the Gloucester Times) 

It’s often odd what people focus on. Was there a “pact” in Gloucester, Massachusetts for young girls to become pregnant or were these girls simply individually irresponsible? While the perversely salacious idea of simply using men as sperm donors literally made headlines around the world, what is more important is the fact that Gloucester is seeing a spike in teen pregnancy, pact or no pact.

Teenagers know what causes pregnancy. They know how to prevent pregnancies. It does little to assume that these teenagers have the IQ of grapefruits and the worldly sophistication of a toddler. What we don’t need is yet another government program. Teenagers become pregnant because they that lack values. So too with teenage boys that impregnate them. They lack values because they lack fathers.

The high correlation between father absence and early teenage sexual activity and pregnancy has long been noted and is a conceded point. According to divorce magazine.com, “Fatherless homes account for . . . well over 50 percent of teen mothers.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services summarizes the risks of sole custody, single parent families: “More than a quarter of American children — nearly 17 million — do not live with their father. Girls without a father in their life are two and a half times as likely to get pregnant.” They may have understated the case.

Anti-fathers’ rights groups have been trying to dismiss this data as misleading by arguing that while there is a high correlation between fatherlessness and teen pregnancy, there was no cause and effect relationship. But a relatively recent longitudinal study (2003) shows that the cause-and-effect relationship between teen pregnancy and fatherlessness may be much stronger than people thought.

Bruce J. Ellis of the Department of Psychology at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand performed a study in conjunction with the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in the United States. A huge sampling body was used for the study — 242 girls living in one of three U.S. cities and 520 girls living in Christchurch. The participant girls were interviewed annually from age 5 to 18, as well as their mothers. These longitudinal studies are exceedingly laborious but produce data that are hard if not impossible to obtain by a study done at one particular moment of time. This is the type of quality study that must be taken seriously.

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Fatherlessness was hardly the only measure being taken. The multiple interviews and questionnaires administered over the years to both parents and children yielded data that covered everything from family demographics to parenting styles and child behavioral problems to childhood academic performance.

“A widely held assumption is that it is not father absence per se that is harmful to children, but the stress associated with divorce, family conflict, loss of a second parent, loss of an adult male income, and so on,” Ellis stated. What Ellis does not mention (and rightfully so since his was a scientific work) was that the not-so-hidden political agenda was to stop the compelling argument for shared parenting legislation so that fathers could be more involved in their children’s lives, but rather to advance arguments in favor of greater child support awards and enforcement, plus domestic violence legislation.

The study found that girls who grew up in otherwise socially and economically privileged homes were not protected. “Father absence was so fundamentally linked to teenage pregnancy that its effects were largely undiminished by such factors as whether girls were rich or poor, black or white, New Zealand Maori or European, cooperative or defiant in temperament, born to adult or teenage mothers, raised in safe or violent neighborhoods, subjected to few or many stressful life events, reared by supportive or rejecting parents, exposed to functional or dysfunctional marriages, or closely or loosely monitored by parents,” Ellis reported. Wow!

Ellis concluded, “The current research suggests that, in relation to daughters’ sexual development, the social address of father absence is important in its own right and not just as a proxy for its many correlates.”

It was found that “father absence was an overriding risk factor for early sexual activity and adolescent pregnancy.” Conversely, father presence was a major protective factor against early sexual outcomes, amazingly, even if other risk factors were present.

The city of Gloucester, Massachusetts, America, and frankly the nations across the world need to wake up. The problem of teen pregnancy is one of fatherlessness.

Rinaldo Del Gallo, III is a practicing family law attorney, spokesperson of the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition, and a columnist regarding legal issues.

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