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Father Absence and Youth Incarceration

NCJ Number
Journal of Research on Adolescence Volume: 14 Issue: 3 Dated: 2004 Pages: 369-397
Cynthia C. Harper; Sara S. McLanahan
Date Published
29 pages
This study examined the likelihood of incarceration as a juvenile among adolescent males from father-absent households, using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
The findings indicate that a sizable portion of the risk for incarceration apparently related to the father's absence from the home could be attributed to other factors, such as teen motherhood, low parent education, racial inequalities, and poverty. Still, adolescents in father-absent households faced elevated incarceration risks. The adolescents who faced the highest incarceration risks, however, were those in stepparent families, including father-stepmother families. Co-residential grandparents may help attenuate this risk, although re-marriage and residential instability increased it. This finding regarding adolescents with stepparents indicates that social policies designed to support children at risk for delinquency should be broadened to include adolescents living in stepfamilies. The panel survey began in 1979 with a sample of 14-to-22-year-olds (6,403 of whom are males) and has continued to re- interview the same group each year, covering the critical ages during the life course when the risk of incarceration emerges and then declines. Data were used for youths who were under age 18 at the initial year of the survey (n = 2,846), so that the explanatory variables characterized minors still under the care of their families or guardians. The types of households considered in the study were mother-father, mother only, father only, mother-stepfather, father-stepmother, and relatives/other. Marital status was used to determine these configurations. Respondent's reports of household configuration (each member in relation to the respondent) were used to measure family structure during adolescence in each survey round until the respondent reached age 18. 4 tables and 95 references