Are Fathers All the Same? Understanding the Role of Biological and Social Fathers in the Lives of Young Adults in South Africa

Sangeetha Madhavan, University of Maryland

Research on social fathers portray them as aberrations to the norm of nuclear units defined by biological parenting. In this analysis, we examine this issue in an urban context in South Africa where historical and current factors necessitate living arrangements not defined by biological parenting. We use the Cape Area Panel Study to examine the influence of co-residential adult males on sexual debut and schooling among African and Coloured youth. We find that the largest proportion of African youth live with male relatives instead of biological fathers, whereas most Coloured youth live with biological fathers. Preliminary analyses suggest that African youth not living with any males face lower odds of experiencing sexual debut compared to those living with biological fathers. No such effects are found for Coloured youth. These findings stand in contrast to the US context where father absence has been associated with early sexual debut for girls.

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Presented in Poster Session 1: Marriage, Unions, Families, and Households