Sons of single mothers develop differently

Boys later reach puberty and have children of their own

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When sons grow up without a father, it's not just childhood. It apparently also influences their later development, as British researchers have now found out. The absence of a father in childhood is associated with boys with a later puberty, the researchers report in the journal "Biology Letters". For this, the likelihood that these boys had already fathered at least one child at the age of 23 years was higher.

These relationships have been valid even after taking into account other factors such as the social and economic situation of families, say Paula Sheppard of the London School of Economics and her colleague Rebecca Sear of Durham University.

Career of more than 9, 500 boys examined

For their study, the researchers had followed in a long-term study the career of more than 9, 500 boys from birth to the age of 23 years. So far, the paternal influence has been examined especially in relation to the daughters, they write. In the few previous studies with boys, there was often no distinction between generally suboptimal childhood conditions and the specific effect of the missing father.

However, the results of their long-term survey showed that the presence or absence of the fathers had a clear influence on the development of sons, say Sheppard and Sear. "This study emphasizes the importance of analyzing the father's role in both early and late childhood phases, " the researchers write.

Data from nationwide long-term survey

The data for their study was taken from the National Child Development Study (NCDS) researchers, an ongoing study of all British children born in 1958. Included in this survey are, among others, socio-economic information, health status and family development from birth. display

For their evaluation, Sheppard and Sear used data for 9, 596 male subjects from five stages of development: at birth, and ages 7, 11, 16 and 23 years. The researchers compared boys, whose father was present in the household up to the age of 16, with boys, who grew up without a father from the beginning. Separately, children were lost who lost their father between the ages of seven and eleven, or between eleven and sixteen, whether through separation of parents or death. "This allowed us to test how the absence of the father in different phases of childhood affects, " write the researchers.

Age at fatherlessness plays a role

The evaluation showed that, for some aspects, it played an important role in the age at which the boys grew up without a father. "A fatherlessness between the ages of eleven and sixteen is associated with a retarded voice break - a puberty indicator, " according to the researchers. The reaction of the boys was thus exactly the same as that of girls in a comparable situation. In the case of girls with absent fathers, puberty is usually premature, as previous studies have shown.

It is possible that the stress of losing a father has an effect on adolescent hormonal balance and therefore delays puberty. It is surprising that an event influences the onset of puberty in late childhood, says Sheppard. "We used to assume that these things are set in early childhood."

Effects on fertility

On the other hand, if the father was absent before the age of seven, this apparently affected the boys' later procreative activity: at the age of 23, 43.9 percent of them already had at least one child With boys growing up, it was only 37.2 percent.

This difference is significant, say the researchers. Apparently, the sons of absent fathers tended to be sexually active and to father children, but they tend to invest less in parenting in the form of marriage, Sheppard and Sear suggest. (Biology Letters, 2011; DOI: 10.1098 / rsbl.2011.0747)

(Biology Letters / dapd, 07.09.2011 - NPO)