Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Gender differences in the transition to early parenthood


Data gathered over the course of a 25-year longitudinal study of 1,055 young people was used to examine gender differences in the onset of early parenthood and the developmental processes that place males and females at risk of becoming a young parent. Results revealed clear gender differences in the timing of early parenthood, with females being twice as likely as males to become a parent between the ages of 16 and 25 years. In contrast, the risk factors and life course processes that placed males and females at risk of an early transition to parenthood were very similar. Two exceptions were a gender-specific effect for maternal age and exposure to parental change, suggesting that having been raised by a younger mother and having experienced parental changes in your family of origin increased risks of early parenthood for females but not males. These findings contribute to our understanding of the effects of gender on life course development.This research was funded by grants from the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the National Child Health Research Foundation, the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation and the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Lianne Woodward, Child Development Research Group, Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand; E-mail:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Armsden, G. C., & Greenberg, M. T. (1987). The inventory of parent and peer attachment: Individual differences and their relationship to psychological well-being in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 16, 427454.

Bardone, A. M., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Dickson, N., & Silva, P. (1996). Adult mental health and social outcomes of adolescent girls with depression and conduct disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 8, 811829.

Beautrais, A. (2002). Gender issues in youth suicidal behaviour. Emergency Medicine, 14, 3542.

Belsky, J., Steinberg, L., & Draper, P. (1991). Childhood experience, interpersonal development, and reproductive strategy: An evolutionary theory of socialization. Child Development, 62, 647670.

Cloninger, C. R. (1987). A systematic method for clinical description and classification of personality variants: A proposal. Archives of General Psychiatry, 44, 573588.

Cohen, P., Kasen, S., Chen, H., Hartmark, C., & Gordon, K. (2003). Variations in patterns of developmental transitions in the emerging adulthood period. Developmental Psychology, 39, 657669.

Coley, R. L., & Chase-Lansdale, P. L. (1998). Adolescent pregnancy and parenthood: Recent evidence and future directions. American Psychologist, 53, 152166.

Colletta, N. D. (1983). At risk for depression: A study of young mothers. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 142, 301310.

Conners, C. K. (1969). A teacher rating scale for use in drug studies with children. American Journal of Psychiatry, 126, 884888.

Conners, C. K. (1970). Symptom patterns in hyperkinetic, neurotic and normal children. Child Development, 41, 667682.

Crick, N., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (2003). The development of psychopathology in females and males: Current progress and future challenges. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 424443.

Dearden, K., Hale, C., & Blankson, M. (1994). Family structure, function and the early transition to fatherhood in Great Britain: Identifying antecedents using longitudinal data. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56, 844852.

Fagot, B. I., Pears, K. C., Capaldi, D. M., Crosby, L., & Leve, C. S. (1998). Becoming an adolescent father: Precursors and parenting. Developmental Psychology, 34, 12091219.

Fergusson, D. M., & Horwood, L. J. (1996). The role of adolescent peer affiliations in the continuity between childhood behavioral adjustment and juvenile offending. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 24, 205221.

Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L. J., Shannon, F. T., & Lawton, J. M. (1989). The Christchurch Child Development Study: A review of epidemiological findings. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, 3, 278301.

Fergusson, D., Horwood, L., & Lloyd, M. (1990). Confirmatory factor models of attention deficit and conduct disorder. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatr, 32, 257274.

Fergusson, D. M., & Lynskey, M. T. (1997). Physical punishment/maltreatment during childhood and adjustment in young adulthood. Child Abuse and Neglect, 21, 617630.

Fergusson, D. M., Lynskey, M. T., & Horwood, L. J. (1996). Childhood sexual abuse and psychiatric disorder in young adulthood: I. Prevalence of sexual abuse and factors associated with sexual abuse. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 13551364.

Fergusson, D. M., & Woodward, L. J. (1999). Maternal age and educational and psychosocial outcomes in early adulthood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 40, 479489.

Fergusson, D. M., & Woodward, L. J. (2000b). Teenage pregnancy and female educational under-achievement. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 147161.

Fillingim, R. (2003). Sex-related influences on pain: A review of mechanisms and implications. Rehabilitation Psychology, 48, 165174.

Furstenberg, F. F., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Chase-Lansdale, L. (1989). Teenaged pregnancy and childbearing. American Psychologist, 44, 2.

Gest, S. D., Mahoney, J. L., & Cairns, R. B. (1999). A developmental approach to prevention research: Configural antecedents of early parenthood. American Journal of Community Psychology, 27, 543565.

Greenland, S. (1989). Modelling and variable selection in epidemiologic analysis. American Journal of Public Health, 79, 340349.

Haskett, M. E., Johnson, C. A., & Miller, J. W. (1994). Individual differences in risk of child abuse by adolescent mothers: Assessment in the perinatal period. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 461476.

Hoffman, S. D., Foster, E. M., & Furstenberg, F. F., Jr. (1993). Reevaluating the costs of teenage childbearing. Demography, 30, 113.

Jaffee, S., Caspi, A., Moffitt, T. E., Belsky, J., & Silva, P. (2001). Why are children born to teen mothers at risk for adverse outcomes in young adulthood? Results from a 20-year longitudinal study. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 377397.

Jaffee, S. R., Caspi, A., & Moffitt, T. E. (2001). Predicting early fatherhood and whether young fathers live with their children: Prospective findings and policy reconsiderations. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42, 803815.

Keenan, K., Loeber, R., & Green, S. (1999). Conduct disorder in girls: A review of the literature. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 2, 319.

Keenan, K., & Shaw, D. (1997). Developmental and social influences on young girls' early problem behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 121, 95113.

Ketterlinus, R. D., Henderson, S., & Lamb, M. E. (1991). The effects of maternal age-at-birth on children's cognitive development. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 1, 173188.

Klepinger, D. H., Lundberg, S., & Plotnick, R. D. (1995). Adolescent fertility and the educational attainment of young women. Family Planning Perspectives, 27, 2328.

Krueger, R. F., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Bleske, A., & Silva, P. A. (1998). Assortative mating for antisocial behavior: Developmental and methodological implications. Behavior Genetics, 28, 173186.

Maccoby, E. E. (1991). Different reproductive strategies in males and females. Child Development, 62, 676681.

Manlove, M. (1997). Early motherhood in an intergenerational perspective: The experiences of a British cohort. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59, 263279.

Marini, M. M. (1984). Women's educational attainment and the timing of entry into parenthood. American Sociological Review, 49, 491511.

Maughan, B., & Lindelow, M. (1997). Secular changes in psychosocial risks: The case of teenage motherhood. Psychological Medicine, 27, 11291144.

Maynard, R. (1995). Teenage childbearing and welfare reform: Lessons from a decade of demonstration and evaluation research. Children and Youth Services Review, 17, 309332.

Miller-Johnson, S., Winn, D.-M., Coie, J., Maumary-Gremaud, A., Hyman, C., Terry, R., et al. (1999). Motherhood during the teen years: A developmental perspective on risk factors for childbearing. Development and Psychopathology, 11, 85100.

Moffitt, T. E., & Team, E.-R. S. (2002). Teen-aged mothers in contemporary Britain. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43, 727742.

Moore, K. A., Morrison, D. R., & Glei, D. A. (1995). Welfare and adolescent sex: The effects of family history, benefit levels, and community context. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 16, 207237.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Girgus, J. S. (1994). The emergence of gender differences in depression during adolescence. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 424443.

Ragozin, A. S., Basham, R. B., Crnic, K. A., Greenberg, M. T., & Robinson, N. M. (1981). Effects of maternal age on parenting role. Developmental Psychology, 18, 627634.

Serbin, L. A., Cooperman, J. M., Peters, P. L., Lehoux, P. M., Stack, D. M., & Schwartzman, A. E. (1998). Intergenerational transfer of psychosocial risk in women with childhood histories of aggression, withdrawal, or aggression and withdrawal. Developmental Psychology, 34, 12461262.

Silverthorn, P., & Frick, P. J. (1999). Developmental pathways to antisocial behavior: The delayed-onset pathway in girls. Development and Psychopathology, 11, 101126.

Stouthamer-Loeber, M., & Wei, E. H. (1998). The precursors of young fatherhood and its effect on delinquency of teenage males. Journal of Adolescent Health, 22, 5665.

Thornberry, T. P., Smith, C. A., & Howard, G. J. (1997). Risk factors for teenage fatherhood. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59, 505522.

Udry, J. R. (1979). Age at menarche, at first intercourse, and at first pregnancy. Journal of Biosocial Science, 11, 433441.

Upchurch, D. M., & McCarthy, J. (1990). The timing of a first birth and high school completion. American Sociological Review, 55, 224234.

Williams, S., McGee, R., Olaman, S., & Knight, R. (1997). Level of education, age or bearing children and mental health of women. Social Science and Medicine, 45, 827836.

Woodward, L. J., & Fergusson, D. M. (1999). Early conduct problems and later risk of teenage pregnancy in girls. Development and Psychopathology, 11, 127141.

Woodward, L. J., & Fergusson, D. M. (2002). Parent, child and contextual predictors of childhood physical punishment. Infant and Child Development, 11, 213235.

Woodward, L. J., Fergusson, D. M., & Horwood, L.J. (2001). Risk factors and life processes associated with teenage pregnancy: Results of a prospective study from birth to 20 years. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63, 11701184.

Xie, H., Cairns, B. D., & Cairns, R. B. (2001). Predicting teen motherhood and teen fatherhood: Individual characteristics and peer affiliations. Social Development, 10, 488511.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 2
Total number of PDF views: 27 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 199 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.