Sons of teen dads more likely to become one too

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Sons born to teenage fathers may end up following in their father’s footsteps, according to a new study.

Past research has shown that girls whose mothers gave birth as teens are more likely than their peers to become teenage mothers themselves. But comparatively little has been known about the factors that matter in teen fatherhood.

In the new study, researchers at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut found that sons of teenage fathers were 80 percent more likely to have a child before age 20 compared with their peers born to older fathers.

The risk remained even after the researchers accounted for a range of other factors, including the mother’s age at the time of her first child’s birth.

That fact was somewhat surprising, lead researcher Heather Sipsma told Reuters Health, given that mothers are often younger than fathers -- and, when both parents are teenagers, frequently end up as the head of the household.

The finding also suggests that something about teen fatherhood, itself, affects the likelihood of a son becoming a young dad, according to Sipsma, a doctoral candidate at the Yale School of Public Health.

“There had been a lot of evidence documenting this cycle among mothers and daughters,” Sipsma said. Now it appears the same may be true of fathers and sons, she and her colleagues report in the American Journal of Public Health.

The findings are based on nearly 1,500 teenage boys who took part in a long-term U.S. government study. Of the boys, who were 13 to 14 years old at the outset, 9 percent became fathers before the age of 20.

Several factors were linked to a higher risk of teen fatherhood -- including delinquency, lower education levels among the boys’ mothers and growing up in an unsafe neighborhood. In addition, African-American and Hispanic boys were roughly twice as likely as white boys to become teen fathers.

But even with such factors taken into account, the age at which the boys’ fathers had become dads remained important.

That differed from the findings on teen motherhood.

Sons of teenage mothers were more likely to become young fathers than those of older mothers. But that link, Sipsma’s team found, appeared to be explained by the other risk factors, like delinquency and neighborhood environment.

It’s not clear from the study why sons of teen fathers may follow the same path. But, Sipsma pointed out, parents serve as role models, and it’s likely that boys’ perceptions of their parents’ expectations and values play a role.

The findings point up the importance of including boys, and not just girls, in programs aimed at preventing teen pregnancy, according to Sipsma. “We need to broaden our target in these interventions,” she said.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, online January 14, 2010.