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Mental Health in Adolescence and Its Role in Family Formation

Understanding factors contributing to increased childlessness among men
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Studies have already discovered the long-term impact of having mental health problems in adolescence (period between ages 10-19) on adult socio-economic outcomes. But in recent decades, as marriage and cohabitation have changed, the role of individual traits on family behaviour has come more into question. What is the possible role of adolescent mental health on family-formation behaviours in early adulthood?

Miriam Evensen (Norwegian Institute of Public Health) and Torkild Hovde Lyngstad (University of Oslo) conducted a study to answer this exact question. They specifically looked at the context of first birth and its timing, and distinguished between internalising mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, and externalising mental disorders, such as hyperactivity and aggression, which are the most common mental disorders among adolescents. In their study, they used data from the Young-HUNT study, a population-based health survey of over 8,900 adolescents aged 13-19-years from 1995-1997. Through the use of population-wide, longitudinal administrative registers from Statistics Norway, respondent’s fertility and marital and educational histories could be matched, making it possible to follow respondents until they reached the age of 30.

Based on their results, compared to individuals that did not experience mental health problems in adolescence, the authors found: Men with externalising disorders are more likely to become a father by age 30. Once they divided externalising disorders as attention disorders and conduct disorders, they found men with conduct disorders have a higher chance of becoming a father outside of a relationship (either cohabiting or marriage) than those without mental health challenges. Men with internalising disorders had a lower chance of having children by the age of 30. For women, adolescent mental health did not play a significant role in their family formation. In regard to the timing of first birth, men with externalising disorders were more likely to become a parent before the age of 30, especially those not in a formal relationship. For women, there was only a connection found between those with attention problems being less likely to be married before 30.

From their findings, it is evident that men’s mental health in adolescence plays a bigger role in early family formation than for women. Internalising disorders, such as anxiety and depression, seem to be the strongest mental health disorders that lead to a low first birth rate among men. The authors suggest that these findings can begin to provide some answers as to why more men are ending up with no children. They posit that this finding could suggest the continued influence of traditional stereotypes of men, which leads women to be more attracted to men that appear emotionally stronger. However, they insist more research is needed to better understand family formation behaviour.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Writer: 
Emily Lines