Two-thirds of the babies born to teenage mothers in a new California study were fathered by adult men some four to six years older than the girls - not the fellow classmates long suspected.
“Most people always assumed a couple of teens fooling around, just idiotic 16-year-olds” were to blame for teen pregnancies, said Mike Males of the University of California at Irvine, whose study appears in today’s American Journal of Public Health.
“But these are adult men not in school, not part of the programs and countermeasures that groups have set up to fight teen pregnancy. … It’s a real complicating factor.”
U.S. teenagers give birth to more than half a million babies every year. Learning about the fathers has been a problem - some 41 percent of the government-collected birth records of teen mothers omit the father’s age.
But last summer, the Alan Guttmacher Institute combined birth certificates with an overlooked 1988 federal survey of another 10,000 women to estimate fathers’ ages. That study concluded that while 12 percent of the new mothers in 1988 were ages 15 to 19, just 5 percent of the new fathers were that young.
Now Males, using California birth certificates, has proved those estimates were on target, because 86 percent of that state’s records do list the fathers’ ages. He also looked at new mothers as young as 10.
Just 34.5 percent of the infants born to California mothers ages 10 to 19 in 1993 were fathered by school-age peers.
The rest of the fathers weren’t decades older. But 13 percent were at least 25 years old - and the younger the mother, the greater the age gap. Girls in high school had babies with men, on average, 4.2 years older, while junior-high girls bore children to men, on average, 6.7 years older.
Among 10- to 14-year-old girls, some 27 percent of the fathers were age 20 to 24.
The study gives scientists the information they need to design pregnancy-prevention education for the military or job-training programs, “places we haven’t thought would need to address the teen pregnancy problem,” said Kristin Moore of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
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