In this paper, we examine the effects of family structure on age at first sexual intercourse before marriage for recent cohorts of women. Previous research on the linkage between family structure and sexual initiation has employed relatively crude measures of family structure—typically a snapshot of the respondent’s family structure at age 14. We use retrospective parent histories from the 1979–87 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to construct dynamic measures of family structure, using information on the number and types of parents in the respondent’s household between birth and age 18. We use these measures to test the effects of prolonged exposure to a single-mother family, prolonged absence of a biological father, parental presence during adolescence, and instability in family structure. For white women, age-specific rates of first sexual intercourse are significantly and positively associated with time-varying measures for the number of family transitions; for black women, age-specific rates are significantly and positively associated with time-varying variables for having resided in a mother-only or father-only family during adolescence. Net of other effects of family structure, we find no significant effects for white or black women of being born out of wedlock, prolonged exposure to a single-mother family, or prolonged absence of a biological father. We interpret our results for white women as consistent with a turbulence and instability hypothesis, but as providing little support for socialization or parental-control hypotheses; for black women, our results are consistent with the parental-control hypothesis, but provide little support for the socialization and turbulence hypotheses. Overall, these findings suggest that the processes influencing the transition to sexual activity may vary quite markedly for white and black women.
In order to set up a list of libraries that you have access to,
you must first login
or sign up.
Then set up a personal list of libraries from your profile page by
clicking on your user name at the top right of any screen.