A not-so-grim tale: how childhood family structure influences reproductive and risk-taking outcomes in a historical u.s. Population.


Sheppard, P; Garcia, JR; Sear, R; (2014) A not-so-grim tale: how childhood family structure influences reproductive and risk-taking outcomes in a historical u.s. Population. PLoS One, 9 (3). e89539. ISSN 1932-6203 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0089539

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Abstract

Childhood family structure has been shown to play an important role in shaping a child's life course development, especially in industrialised societies. One hypothesis which could explain such findings is that parental investment is likely to be diluted in families without both natural parents. Most empirical studies have examined the influence of only one type of family disruption or composition (e.g. father absence) making it difficult to simultaneously compare the effects of different kinds of family structure on children's future outcomes. Here we use a large, rich data source (n = 16,207) collected by Alfred Kinsey and colleagues in the United States from 1938 to 1963, to examine the effects of particular childhood family compositions and compare between them. The dataset further allows us to look at the effects of family structure on an array of traits relating to sexual maturity, reproduction, and risk-taking. Our results show that, for both sexes, living with a single mother or mother and stepfather during childhood was often associated with faster progression to life history events and greater propensity for risk-taking behaviours. However, living with a single father or father and stepmother was typically not significantly different to having both natural parents for these outcomes. Our results withstand adjustment for socioeconomic status, age, ethnicity, age at puberty (where applicable), and sibling configuration. While these results support the hypothesis that early family environment influences subsequent reproductive strategy, the different responses to the presence or absence of different parental figures in the household rearing environment suggests that particular family constructions exert independent influences on childhood outcomes. Our results suggest that father-absent households (i.e. single mothers or mothers and stepfathers) are most highly associated with subsequent fast life history progressions, compared with mother-absent households, and those with two natural parents.

Item Type: Article
Faculty and Department: Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health > Dept of Population Health (2012- ) > Dept of Population Studies (1974-2012)
Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health > Dept of Population Health (2012- )
Faculty of Public Health and Policy > Dept of Health Services Research and Policy
Research Centre: Population Studies Group
PubMed ID: 24599234
Web of Science ID: 332479400018
URI: http://researchonline.lshtm.ac.uk/id/eprint/1604421

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