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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. By investigating the intergenerational consequences of multiple aspects of family experiences across the life course this paper advances what we know about the forces shaping children's initiation of sexual and contraceptive behaviors.
Our aim is to advance the scientific understanding of early sexual experiences by explicitly considering contraceptive use and by differentiating between the consequences of parental family experiences during childhood and those during adolescence and young adulthood. Thanks to unique, highly detailed data measuring parental family experiences throughout the life course and sexual dynamics early in life it is possible to provide detailed empirical estimates of the relationship between parental family experiences and contraceptive use at first sex—a relationship about which we know relatively little.
Findings reveal 1 ificant simultaneous consequences of many different dimensions of parental family experiences for the timing of first sex and the likelihood of using contraception at first sex, but the specific dimensions of family important for the specific behavior vary across racial groups; and 2 that parental family experiences influence the timing of sex and contraceptive use differently. In recent years, many studies have investigated the relationship between the parental family and early entrances into sexual experience, primarily motivated by social concern regarding high levels of unintended, premarital, or early childbearing.
However, rarely do these studies directly explore the use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy in early sexual experiences. This is a Brewster Hill ms sex incounters gap in our understanding of early sexual experience because not all sexual encounters lead to pregnancy—careful use of effective contraceptive methods can prevent pregnancy. Our aims are to fill this gap and build upon important advances in this area by comparing the consequences of parental family experiences that occur early in the life course to those that occur later. The result is a comprehensive investigation of the relationship between parental family experiences and early sexual behavior.
The research reported here advances our understanding of these important topics in three ways. First, we explicitly integrate contraceptive behavior into theoretical reasoning about early sexual experiences. Second, we provide new empirical evidence regarding the relationship between family experiences and contraceptive use at first sex—a relationship about which we know relatively little.
Third, following from this new theoretical framework we integrate new dimensions of the parental family across the life course into empirical models of contraceptive use, explicitly comparing the consequences of the parental family in childhood and later in adolescence and young adulthood.
These dimensions specifically differentiate among stepparents, cohabiting parents, single parents, and parental marriage and remarriage. New empirical advances in modeling the relationships among family dynamics, sexual debut, and contraceptive use are possible because the National Survey of Family Growth NSFG-Cycle V includes detailed event history measures of parental family dynamics, first sex, and contraceptive use, and contains large over-samples of Hispanics and African-Americans. Similarly detailed parental event histories coupled with measures of first sex and contraception are not available in other US national data sources, including other rounds of the NSFG.
The detailed life history measures of childhood living arrangements and parental marital relationships allow us to determine both the timing of first sex relative to parental family changes—such as parental cohabitations, marriages, and divorces—and the use of contraceptive methods to avoid pregnancy during that sexual experience. Together these unique measures provide the means to estimate dynamic, event-history models of first intercourse that incorporate change over the individual's life course, multiple dimensions of parental family experiences, and sexual behavior with and without contraception.
The provide new insight into the links between parental family experiences, entry into sexual relationships, and contraceptive use to reduce pregnancy risk. The effects of family experiences on individuals have long been of central concern to sociologists and policy makers. Research documents similarities between parents and their children both in terms of behavior and attitudes Amato ; Roche, Ahmed, and Blum ; Axinn and Thornton ; Barber; Dittus and Jaccard ; McNeely et al.
Family experiences may also matter because of their relationship to parental resources. Physical monitoring and sanctions, financial rewards and punishments, or emotional support and control might all be used to shape their children's behavior Barnes, Brewster Hill ms sex incounters, and Welte ; Pearson, Muller, Frisco ; Wight, Williamson, and Hendersonand parents with more resources are better able to produce children's behaviors that match parental preferences than parents with fewer resources Axinn and Thornton However, the full spectrum of family experiences that are pertinent for understanding young women's sexual and contraceptive behavior remain unclear.
This paper seeks to provide additional information on this issue by focusing on family structures and transitions.
Most recent research on the timing of young people's entry into sexual relationships, their use of contraception, and their risk of becoming pregnant takes a strong life course perspective linking the timing of various personal experiences and contextual events to the likelihood of key transitions e. Our framework incorporates both the life course perspective and potential development changes and divides parental family dynamics between two very different portions of the life course—childhood, before the vast majority of children are exposed to the risk of entering sexual relationships, and adolescence and young adulthood, the period in which the vast majority of American children have their first sexual experience.
Our study builds directly on several recent, rigorous empirical examinations of the relationship between the parental family and either sexual debut or premarital childbearing Albrecht and Teachman ; Wu ; Wu and Martinson ; Wu and Thomson Investigators find that living with a single parent, being born out of wedlock, the of parental family transitions experienced, and experiencing a parental divorce have all been linked to these outcomes e. Specifically for sexual debut, the most advanced empirical models demonstrate that the of parental family transitions experienced for white women and living in a single parent household for black women are the key family dynamics related to the timing of first Brewster Hill ms sex incounters Albrecht and Teachman ; Wu and Thomson For premarital childbearing, studies show that the of parental family transitions experienced is the key dimension of family dynamics producing higher rates of premarital pregnancy for black and white women Wu ; Wu and Martinson Several aspects of childhood parental family dynamics have the potential to influence sexual behavior.
Young people with parents who entered sexual relationships early may enter sexual relationships early themselves Inazu and Fox ; Thornton and Camburn Thus, young women born to young mothers are likely to have sex earlier. Because unmarried parents may also be more approving of early sex, children born to unmarried parents are more likely to engage in early sex. Childhood exposure to different parental living arrangements may also have long-term consequences for the timing of entry into sexual relationships.
Unmarried parents who enter into a new relationship via either cohabitation or marriage may expose their children to and teach them about the courtship process at young ages, thereby increasing the likelihood their children will enter courtship early.
Additionally, women who lived with their fathers during childhood, especially early childhood, had sex later than girls who did not live with their fathers Campa and Eckenrode Young women who mature earlier tend to have their first sexual experiences before women who are slower to mature, and childhood parental family structure may influence children's maturation Brooks-Gunn ; Brooks-Gunn and Furstenberg ; Cavanagh Because of time and resource constraints, single parents may engage children in household decisions and tasks more quickly than two-parent families.
The addition of a stepparent, cohabiting partner, or grandparent to the household may reduce this difference, but is still not likely to equal the time and resources of two-biological-parent living arrangements. Children who help sustain the household are likely to mature more quickly and may feel that they are ready to participate in sexual relationships at earlier ages than their peers who have not been contributing to the household functioning Chase ; Ellis and Essex ; Jurkovic ; Winton Consequently, we predict that young women who spent time in childhood with a single parent are more likely to engage in sexual activity early.
Parental marital transitions, both the type andmay affect their children's sexual behavior through multiple mechanisms McLanahan and Bumpass ; Thornton and Camburn ; Wu Here we describe how exposure to parental transitions in childhood may influence sexual behavior.
Parental divorce typically in mothers and children suffering financial losses, in mothers experiencing increased time constraints, and may cause increased emotional stress Amato ; Chase-Lansdale and Hetherington ; Smock, Manning, and Gupta All of these factors may influence the children's internal motivations regarding sex; experiencing a parental divorce may lead children to turn outside of the family for emotional support, increasing the motivation to have sex at an early age Cherlin, Kiernan, and Chase-Lansdale ; Goldscheider and Goldscheider When parental divorce occurs in childhood, before most children are exposed to the risk of sexual relationships, it is most likely to affect children by changing individuals' preferences or motivations.
Consequently, we expect that young women who experience a parental divorce in childhood will have sex at earlier ages. Divorce Brewster Hill ms sex incounters not the only stressful parental transition that may influence children's sexual behavior Langenkamp and Frisco Parental marriage or remarriage may also increase sexual behavior among adolescents McLanahan and Bumpass ; McLanahan and Sandefur ; Wu Children may feel as if they have been replaced by a stepparent and, as with parental divorce, look outside the family for emotional ties Ganong and Coleman ; Giles-Sims and Finkelhor ; Gordon and Creighton Young women may look to substitute a sexual relationship for the relationship they ly held with their parent—as with divorce, increasing their motivation to have sex.
Additionally, because witnessing their parents' involvement in the courtship process increases familiarity with courtship, children who experience a parental marriage may also be more likely to enter courtship, which often involves sexual activity Thornton and Camburn We expect that young women who experience a parental first marriage or remarriage will have sex at earlier ages than women who do not experience one of these transitions.
Each successive parental marital and living arrangement transition places the family under additional stress Wu ; Wu and Martinson With more transitions the parent-child relationship may continue to weaken, resulting in less and less communication between parents and their children regarding sex, contraceptives, and future goals. As a result, children may have less motivation to avoid sex or pregnancy, leading to sex at earlier ages.
Accordingly, we predict that women who have experienced more family transitions in childhood will have sex earlier than women in more stable families. Immediate parental circumstances may also influence children's sexual behavior. The research literature argues that single parents, and to a lesser extent cohabiting parents and stepfamilies, have less time to exercise social control over their children than two biological parent families Dornbusch et al.
By social control we refer to the time, financial resources, authority, and influence adults may have over children. Even when the addition of a stepparent adds to the time available for parental social control, stepparents usually have less authority to exert social control than biological parents Thomson, McLanahan, and Curtin ; Thornton As a result, most studies predict young women living with single parents during adolescence and young adulthood are likely to enter sexual relationships more quickly than young women living in two parent families and those living with stepparents will be in between.
Recent research on the prevalence and ificance of cohabiting unions and multigenerational households implies the importance of considering these family types separately as well Brown ; Cherlin and Fomby ; DeLeire and Kalil ; Kalil et al. Cohabiting partners, like stepparents, may add time and resources, but they are also likely to have less social control authority than biological parents. The same is likely true when a grandparent or other relative s the household. To the extent social control mechanisms shape the pace of children's transition to sexual relationships, young women who live with a parent and a cohabiting partner, a grandparent, or another relative may enter sexual relationships more slowly than those living with a single parent alone, but they are still likely to enter sexual relationships more quickly than those living with two biological parents.
Parental marital and living arrangement transitions during adolescence and young adulthood may affect children's sexual behavior independently from the specific statuses Wu ; Wu and Martinson As argued above, divorce depletes parents' time and financial and emotional resources, giving them fewer tools with which to exert social control.
Alternatively, when single parents marry, social control may increase due to the addition of an adult to the household. However, regardless of the type of transition, each additional one creates additional distractions for parents and guardians, thereby weakening parental control.
More transitions will likely produce higher rates of children's entry into sexual relationships. Note that parental marriage may speed up or delay sexual debut depending on the dominant mechanism. research has not provided consistent evidence regarding the effect of parental marriage. One reason for this may be that researchers have not had detailed enough data to separate the effects of parental first marriage, divorce, and remarriage Langenkamp and Frisco ; Seltzer Of course, even though sexual intercourse can lead to pregnancy, effective contraceptive use can prevent pregnancies.
Crucial for this study, evidence indicates that contraceptive use at initial sexual intercourse strongly predicts the consistency of contraceptive use through later periods of sexual activity Manlove, Ryan, and Franzetta ; Brewster Hill ms sex incounters and Luker ; Reinecke, Schmidt, and Ajzen So, parental family dynamics that shape the likelihood of contraceptive use at first intercourse are an essential part of the link between family dynamics and pregnancy.
Although comparatively little work investigates this issue, many of the factors identified as likely to shape the timing of first sex are also likely to shape contraceptive use at first sex. Dimensions of childhood experience that are positive with respect to pregnancy, babies, and parenthood or negative with respect to contraception are particularly likely to influence later contraceptive use Axinn, Clarkberg, and Thornton ; Duncan et al. When parents themselves had children at young ages or outside of marriage, their children are likely to be Brewster Hill ms sex incounters positive toward becoming pregnant, and therefore less likely to use contraception at first intercourse.
Likewise, if parents became pregnant early or outside of marriage because they were less averse to the risk of pregnancy than others, they are also likely to pass this lower risk aversion on to their children, making the children less likely to use contraception at first sex Kapinus and Gormen research also shows that when single parents marry they often go on to become pregnant Vikat, Thomson, and Hoem ; Wineberg When this marriage occurs while existing children are in childhood, it is likely to expose these young children to positive sentiments toward pregnancy and parenthood.
Thus, childhood exposure to stepparents may also reduce the likelihood of using contraceptive methods at first sex. Childhood exposure to parental cohabiting partners may influence contraceptive use in the same direction, but this effect is likely to be much weaker than the effect of stepparents because cohabitors are much less likely to become pregnant than married couples Bachrach ; Raley ; Rindfuss and VandenHeuval Young women living with a single parent during childhood may feel less social pressure to avoid pregnancy and therefore be less likely to use contraceptives than those living with two parents.
Childhood exposure to parental divorce and other parental marital living arrangement transitions is likely to produce uncertainty and stress for children. These stresses may motivate young women to seek sexual relationships as an alternative form of stability in their intimate social lives. Just as this instability may motivate sexual partnerships, the same instability may also motivate positive attitudes toward pregnancy and childbearing. In highly unstable social situations bearing and rearing children may provide young women with an important source of intimate social stability.
Young women who are more positive toward bearing and rearing children are also less likely to use contraception.
Thus, young women who experience many parental family transitions in childhood may also be less likely to contracept when they have sexual relationships. Immediate parental circumstances shape the level of social control parents are able to exert during adolescence and young adulthood. To the extent that parents uniformly prefer their children to engage in sexual activity with a lower risk of pregnancy, more parental social control will be linked to a higher likelihood of contraceptive use.
This need not always be the case, Brewster Hill ms sex incounters the vast majority of American parents prefer their children either delay sex or use contraceptive methods when having sex Thornton ; Thornton and Young-DeMarco As described above, single parents, and to a lesser extent stepfamilies and cohabiting families, have less time to exercise social control over their children than two biological parent families Dornbusch et al.
This lower social control is likely to reduce the chances of using contraception at first sex. Parental marital and living arrangement transitions also deplete parents' time and financial and emotional resources, giving them fewer tools with which to exert social control. More transitions are likely to correspond to less social control, so that more parental marital transitions will likely produce lower rates of contraceptive use at first sex. In general, we expect children who observe their parents engaging in behavior the children may construe as positive towards sex and childbearing i.
Children who experience multiple family situations are more likely to feel unstable and attempt to cope with this instability by establishing their own sexual relationships earlier. They may also attempt to create their own families earlier and will therefore be less likely to use contraception when they have sex. Finally, children with less supervision are more likely to engage in sex earlier and less likely to use contraception when they do so.
Empirical studies consistently show that black and Hispanic women have earlier sexual debuts, higher rates of nonmarital pregnancy, and lower rates of contraceptive use than white women Brewster a ; Browning, Leventhal, and Brooks-Gunn ; Cooksey, Rindfuss, and Guilkey ; Furstenberg ; South There are at least two possible explanations: either the different racial and ethnic groups respond the same way to various background factors but are characterized by different background factors; or they respond differently even when subject to the same background factors.
First, the observed behavioral differences by race and ethnicity may arise from racial and ethnic differences in those factors known to influence sexual behavior such as neighborhood characteristics, family income, and parental family experiences. research reveals that blacks are more likely to have been born to an unwed or young mother, less likely Brewster Hill ms sex incounters live in two-biological parent households, and more likely to live in single parent households Loomis and Landale ; Morgan et al.
At the same time, blacks are more likely to live in high poverty areas and in areas with a higher concentration of single parents and women who were young or unmarried at their first birth Wilson This different social or neighborhood context may be responsible for the observed racial difference in the relationship between family dynamics and sexual behavior.
However, empirical evidence regarding whether neighborhood characteristics completely for the racial and ethnic differences in behavior that remain after controlling for family characteristics is mixed Brewster ab ; Crowder and Teachman ; Eggebeen and Lichter ; South and Crowder Or, second, the social meaning of these various factors may be different for whites, blacks, and Hispanics, thereby eliciting different responses and behaviors Mead ; Wilson; Sucoff and Upchurch Social interactions are an important component of the process through which individuals construct meaning of their environment and subsequently make behavioral decisions Mead Residential segregation and differences between whites', blacks', and Hispanics' social contexts likely produce different social interactions that may foster the construction of different meanings Massey and Denton ; Mead For example, in a community with a high prevalence of single parent families, having a non-marital pregnancy may not have the same social costs as it would in a community where two biological parent families are the norm Browning and Burrington ; South and BaumerBrewster Hill ms sex incounters
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