Associations Between Father Absence and Age of First Sexual Intercourse


  • This work was supported by NRSA predoctoral fellowship, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Grant F31 MH074163-01A1 to Jane Mendle. Contributions by Joseph Rodgers, including development of the kinship linking algorithm, were supported by NIH Grant RO1-HD034265. Other contributions were supported by NIH Grant R01-MH053554 to Benjamin Lahey, NIH Grant RO1HD056354-01 to Robert Emery, and NIH Grant R01HD53550-2 to Eric Turkheimer.

concerning this article should be addressed to Jane Mendle, Department of Psychology, 12227 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-1227. Electronic mail may be sent to


Children raised without a biological father in the household have earlier average ages of first sexual intercourse than children raised in father-present households. Competing theoretical perspectives have attributed this either to effects of father absence on socialization and physical maturation or to nonrandom selection of children predisposed for early sexual intercourse into father-absent households. Genetically informative analyses of the children of sister dyads (N = 1,382, aged 14–21 years) support the selection hypothesis: This association seems attributable to confounded risks, most likely genetic in origin, which correlated both with likelihood of father absence and early sexual behavior. This holds implications for environmental theories of maturation and suggests that previous research may have inadvertently overestimated the role of family structure in reproductive maturation.