It all began like this.
I purchased a book at a thrift store last weekend. By a noted Christian psychologist, it addresses the topic of a father’s influence on a daughter. It’s a topic that interests me more for ministry-related reasons than personal reasons. I know too many girls without dads.
Since I’m as particular about writing style as I am about content, after reading a chapter or two, I just wasn’t engaged anymore. The topic, however, was still something I wanted to explore, but not necessarily from a Christian vantage point.
I don’t like what I discovered.
In seeking to answer the question, “How is a daughter affected by an absent father?” by far, the most widely-referenced study was a 2003 report by researchers who studied almost 800 girls in New Zealand and the United States, tracking them from early in life until 18 years old.
The following is an excerpt of the findings (bold is my emphasis):
The study looked at whether father absence placed daughters at special risk for early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy. The U.S. and New Zealand have the first and second highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Western industrialized countries, with about 10% of girls in the US and 7% of girls in New Zealand between the ages of 15 and 19 becoming pregnant each year. Dr Ellis said the study revealed that the absence of the biological father from the home was an over-riding risk factor for early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy, and the earlier father absence occurred the greater the risk. For example, rates of teenage pregnancy increased from about 1-in-20 among father-present girls to 1-in-3 among early father-absent girls in the US sample and from about 1-in-30 among father-present girls to 1-in-4 among early father-absent girls in the New Zealand sample. (Early father absence was defined as the first five years of life.) Father absence emerged as a major pathway to risky sexual behaviour, even for girls who came from otherwise socially and economically privileged homes. “Father absence was so fundamentally linked to teenage pregnancy that its effects were largely undiminished by such factors as whether girls were rich or poor, black or white, New Zealand Maori or European, cooperative or defiant in temperament, born to adult or teenage mothers, raised in safe or violent neighbourhoods, subjected to few or many stressful life events, reared by supportive or rejecting parents, exposed to functional or dysfunctional marriages, or closely or loosely monitored by parents,” Ellis said.
With this information fresh on my brain, I decided to take a look at teenage pregnancy in the U.S.
I don’t like what I discovered.
Again, no “Christian” data for this one, either. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) provides a wealth of detailed, reliable information, and it’s easily accessible online. From a press release issued by the CDC on May 13, 2009, it is also apparent that this is a problem that affects the global community. Here are a few excerpts (and again, the emphasis is mine):
- The proportion of births to unmarried mothers in the United States has risen steeply over the past few decades, consistent with patterns in other countries.
- In March, CDC reported that about 4 in 10 births in the United States in 2007 were to unmarried mothers.
- The trend in unmarried childbearing was fairly stable from the mid-1990s to 2002, but has shown a steep increase between 2002 and 2007. Between 1980 and 2007, the proportion of births to unmarried women in the United States has more than doubled, from 18 percent to 40 percent.”
- Birth rates among unmarried mothers are highest for Hispanic women (106 births per 1,000 unmarried Hispanic women).
- The overwhelming majority of births to teenagers are non-marital. Among teens aged 15-17, 93 percent of births were non-marital in 2007.
This is a problem, because not only is there a steeply rising teenage pregnancy rate, there is an overwhelmingly increased rate of births to unmarried women in general—especially women in their early 20s. In my non-expert opinion, it appears that there is an unprecedented number of children being born without a father present (at least within the context of a marriage commitment).
This article seems to validate that opinion:
Changing Patterns of Non-marital Childbearing in the United States
As if that isn’t enough information to chew upon, let me switch gears. What about all of those girls who “didn’t get caught”? They are no less sexually active than those who happened to bear a child, but they may have chosen to abort the child instead. And, then, what about the number of women who reportedly have sexually transmitted diseases?
I don’t like what I discovered.
Let’s begin with abortion.
Again, the CDC is my source, but I’m dealing with a 2005 report. The number of legally performed abortions in the U.S. peaked in 1990 at 1.4+ million. Since that time, numbers have continued to decrease or level off. Interestingly, in 2005, the number of legally performed abortions totaled 820,151 — the lowest in the U.S. since 1974. It appears some progress is being made, although I would rather have seen that number decrease by about 820,151.
Equally as interesting is what has not changed from 1973 until 2005 — the percentage of women receiving abortions who are unmarried. Quite consistently, around 80 percent of the women who receive an abortion are not married.
This statistic seriously disturbed me: in 2005, only 53.5% of the women who had an abortion had not previously had another abortion procedure. That indicates that approximately half of the women seeking abortion as a solution have sadly gone that route before.
Please allow me to re-cap, briefly:
1. Girls who grow up without the influence of a dad are more likely (at-risk) to become pregnant as teenagers.
2. A teen who becomes pregnant is typically unmarried.
3. The unmarried (vs. married) girl or woman is more likely to consider abortion an option.
4. Multiple abortions are not uncommon.
As an aside, I will note that there has been a shift in the past few years, regarding the ages of women who seek an abortion. In 2005, women ages 25 years or older obtained a record 50.1 percent of legal abortions. Abortion is becoming more utilized by those in their career years than those in adolescent years, although historically, it has always shifted in that direction.
But…moving on, since I still haven’t gotten to STDs.
I don’t like what I discovered.
From a January 2009 CDC report highlighting 2007 data (emphasis is mine):
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year — almost half of them among young people 15 to 24 years of age. Chlamydia remains the most commonly reported disease in the United States. In 2007, 1,108,374 chlamydia diagnoses were reported, up from 1,030,911 in 2006. The 2007 total represents the largest number of cases ever reported to CDC for any condition. Even so, most chlamydia cases still go undiagnosed. CDC estimates that there are approximately 2.8 million new cases of chlamydia in the United States each year, indicating that more than half of new cases remain undiagnosed and unreported.
Did you get that?!? CDC essentially says, “Here are the numbers we definitely know about, but wait….we’re pretty sure that’s not very accurate because that number is way too low — by about, say, 1.7 million or so.”
I don’t like what I’ve discovered.
Not at all.
You see, I know too many girls without dads. I know that the odds are not in their favor. It isn’t the norm for these kind of girls to remain pure throughout their teenage years, to develop an emotional constitution that is stable and secure, to have the fortitude to end a cycle that likely began before their birth.
It’s enough to scare the living daylights out of me (whatever that is), were it not that I believe in the power of God to restore and heal and change lives, that I believe that the Word is not antiquated but alive, that I believe in hope, that I believe that God is a father to the fatherless.
At Aim Right, we have been so blessed with a number of interns and volunteers who have a heart for at-risk girls, and it has been an incredible privilege to be a part of that team. Through the years, at various times and in blended fashion, our weekly Bible study group has consisted of teenage mothers, sexually active teens, expectant girls, and those who are choosing abstinence.
I want to briefly mention an observation that the church at-large has often been guilty of heightening the shame–unnecessarily, in my opinion–of teenage pregnancy, while those who continue in promiscuity without “getting caught” are let off the hook. Grace and forgiveness need to be infused into those situations, and with good measure.
Similarly, let’s teach girls a holistic message of purity that certainly covers physical, romantic expression, but also extends far beyond it. Purity is so much more than restraint; it is intentionally pursuing that which is pure and noble and good and holy in every facet of life. It is not being perfect, but it is running to the Father of grace when we’ve messed up again.
I still don’t like what I’ve discovered.
I still know too many girls without dads.
But I still believe in the power of God to restore.
And, therefore, I still have hope.