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Childbearing before the age of 20: Does biological father involvement matter to economically disadvantaged black females?


This study investigates the relationship between teen childbearing among poor black females and various facets of father involvement experienced during childhood including accessibility, engagement and responsibility. Beyond examining paternal involvement as a factor exclusively, this study considers other protective factors that might matter to poor black females who manage to avoid an early birth in spite of economic disadvantage. While teen birth rates have declined over the past 30 years, the disparity between racial groups remains most relevant for minorities, particularly black females. Previous research has not primarily considered the condition of black females in a study including these variables. Studies, for the most part, have focused on paternal involvement for middle class white families, separated by divorce, without regard for black females raised in single mother households.

A convenient sample of black mothers, over age 20, living in public housing provided retrospective responses to a 92-item questionnaire. Measures for the current study included father involvement, mother’s age at first birth, mother’s level of education, and closeness to a mother. Additional measures including self-esteem, education and welfare status during adulthood, were used to determine differences between those who gave birth before age 20 and those who did not. Maternal measures were derived from a mother’s survey used previously and the Rosenberg Self-esteem scale was used to measure self-esteem.

Results show that 1) selected facets of father involvement do not predict early childbearing among poor black females; 2) while the mother’s education and the mother-daughter relationship do not predict early childbearing, having a mother who was once a teen mother does; and finally, 3) there was no indication that self-esteem, education and welfare status during adulthood would differ among those who gave birth before age 20 and those who did not. Implications for future research are discussed.

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