Family Instability and Adolescents’ Dating and Sexual Initiation

Katherine Stamps Mitchell, Louisiana State University
Cassandra J. Dorius, University of Michigan
Daphne C. Hernandez, Pennsylvania State University

This study draws on the family instability hypothesis to investigate whether and how long-term family structure experiences predict the onset of romantic relationships in adolescence. Using merged mother and child data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) and NLSY79 Child and Young Adults (CNLSY), we explore the association between family instability and adolescents’ dating and sexual initiation. Results indicate that family instability does not appear to be associated with the onset of dating. Family instability is an important predictor of early sexual initiation for both male and female adolescents, however. The effect of family instability on early sex appears to be slightly stronger for male and Black adolescents compared to female and non-Black, non-Hispanic adolescents. We also investigate several possible moderators of the relationship between family instability and sexual initiation, including self-esteem, depression, and menarche (for females).

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Presented in Session 105: Adolescent Sexual Behavior and Risk Taking