Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 95–123 | Cite as

Paternal Incarceration and Early Sexual Onset Among Adolescents

  • Kristin TurneyEmail author
  • Rachel E. Goldberg
Original Research


Despite a growing literature documenting deleterious intergenerational consequences of incarceration, relatively little is known about how exposure to paternal incarceration is associated with risk behaviors in adolescence. In this article, we use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 3405)—a cohort of urban children born around the turn of the twenty-first century and followed for 15 years—to examine the relationship between paternal incarceration and one indicator of adolescent risk behavior, early sexual onset. Results from adjusted logistic regression models show that paternal incarceration is associated with a greater likelihood of initiating sexual activity before age 15, in part resulting from externalizing problems that follow paternal incarceration. We also find that these associations are concentrated among boys living with their fathers prior to his incarceration. Given that paternal incarceration is a stressor concentrated among already vulnerable children, paternal incarceration may exacerbate inequalities in adolescent sexual risk behavior.


Adolescent sexual activity Family instability Family stress Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study Paternal incarceration 



Funding for the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study was provided by the NICHD through Grants R01HD36916, R01HD39135, and R01HD40421, as well as a consortium of private foundations (see for the complete list). Turney’s work on this project was supported by grants from the Foundation for Child Development and the William T. Grant Foundation.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California, IrvineIrvineUSA

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