Parental Relationships and Father Absence Association Study

Table of Results.

Mate Preference Measures

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Father Absent (mean)

Father Present (mean)

U

Sig

Time Of First Sexual Intercourse

10.63

10.99

1440.5

.189

Mating Strategies

7.34

8.30

1589.5

.631

Parental Investment

19.95

19.86

1587.0

.637

Economic Resources

25.68

27.01

1248.5

.021

Physical Attractiveness and Intelligence

12.18

14.52

1657.5

.938

Alpha Qualities

18.37

16.48

1364.0

.101

Cues To Commitment

23.84

24.20

1016.5

.000

Partner Age Short Term Relationship

3.00

2.81

1495.0

.338

Partner Age Long Term Relationship

3.03

3.00

1657.0

.936

Table One. Differences in Mate Preferences Between Father Absent and Father Present Girls as Assessed Using Mann-Whitney.

Mate Preference Measures

Mother’s Care

Mother’s Overprotection.

r

sig

r

sig

Time Of First Sexual Intercourse

.093

ns

-.022

ns

Mating Strategies

-.018

ns

-.054

ns

Parental Investment

-.081

ns

.037

ns

Economic Resources

.015

ns

-.224

.009

Physical Attractiveness and Intelligence

-.090

ns

.038

ns

Alpha Qualities

.005

ns

-.069

ns

Cues To Commitment

-.115

ns

.205

.018

Partner Age Short Term Relationship

.206

.017

-.117

ns

Partner Age Long Term Relationship

.197

.023

-.125

ns

ns – not significant (two tailed).

Table Two. Spearman’s Correlations Between Mother-Child Relationships and Mate Preferences Within British and Chinese Girls Regardless of Parental Presence.

Mate Preference Measures

Father’s Care

Father’s Overprotection.

r

sig

r

sig

Time Of First Sexual Intercourse

-.115

ns

-.066

ns

Mating Strategies

-.167

ns

.104

ns

Parental Investment

-.096

ns

.003

ns

Economic Resources

-.183

.035

.037

ns

Physical Attractiveness and Intelligence

-.134

ns

.035

ns

Alpha Qualities

-.048

ns

-.073

ns

Cues To Commitment

-.156

ns

.095

ns

Partner Age Short Term Relationship

.126

ns

-.171

.049

Partner Age Long Term Relationship

.239

.006

-.370

.000

ns – not significant (two tailed).

Table Three. Spearman’s Correlations Between Father-Child Relationships and Mate Preferences Within British and Chinese Girls Regardless of Parental Presence.

Mate Preference Measures

Before 13 years (mean)

After 13 years

(mean)

U

Sig

Time Of First Sexual Intercourse

10.50

11.0

113.5

.076

Mating Strategies

7.58

7.90

165.5

.704

Parental Investment

19.92

18.50

160.0

.609

Economic Resources

25.39

24.10

161.0

.627

Physical Attractiveness and Intelligence

12.53

14.40

129.0

.182

Alpha Qualities

15.64

27.90

160.5

.609

Cues To Commitment

23.39

25.20

126.5

.156

Partner Age Short Term Relationship

2.83

3.40

112.0

.072

Partner Age Long Term Relationship

3.14

3.00

145.0

.364

ns – not significant (two tailed).

Table Four. Differences in Mate Preference Between Girls Whose Parents Split Before They Were 13 and Those Who Split After They Were 13.

Mate Preference Measures

British Girls (mean)

Chinese Girls (mean)

U

Sig

Time Of First Sexual Intercourse

9.25

11.64

112.0

.060

Mating Strategies

7.75

7.05

121.5

.108

Parental Investment

20.56

19.50

99.0

.022

Economic Resources

25.69

25.68

148.0

.421

Physical Attractiveness and Intelligence

11.81

12.45

134.5

.223

Alpha Qualities

13.13

22.18

145.5

.372

Cues To Commitment

22.25

25.00

167.0

.804

Partner Age Short Term Relationship

2.69

3.23

47.0

.000

Partner Age Long Term Relationship

2.75

3.28

137.5

.258

Table Five. Differences in Mate Preferences Between British and Chinese Girls Whose Fathers Were Absent During Childhood.

Mate Preference Measures

Father Absent (mean)

Father Present (mean)

U

Sig

Time Of First Sexual Intercourse

11.64

11.32

598.0

.137

Mating Strategies

7.05

8.35

629.0

.221

Parental Investment

19.50

19.60

673.5

.460

Economic Resources

25.68

27.54

498.5

.015

Physical Attractiveness and Intelligence

12.45

14.49

709.0

.713

Alpha Qualities

22.18

17.37

616.5

.216

Cues To Commitment

25.00

24.35

477.5

.010

Partner Age Short Term Relationship

3.28

2.93

719.5

.781

Partner Age Long Term Relationship

3.28

3.06

682.5

.537

Table Six. Differences in Mate Preferences Within Chinese Girls Whose Fathers Were Absent During Childhood as Compared to Those Whose Fathers were Present.

Mate Preference Measures

Father Absent (mean)

Father Present (mean)

U

Sig

Time Of First Sexual Intercourse

9.25

9.85

121.0

.223

Mating Strategies

7.75

8.10

156.0

.912

Parental Investment

20.56

20.80

137.0

.479

Economic Resources

25.69

25.20

145.0

.648

Physical Attractiveness and Intelligence

11.81

14.65

151.0

.789

Alpha Qualities

13.13

13.45

139.0

.519

Cues To Commitment

22.25

23.70

84.5

.015

Partner Age Short Term Relationship

2.69

2.40

160.0

1.00

Partner Age Long Term Relationship

2.75

2.80

149.0

.741

Table Seven. Differences in Mate Preferences Within British Girls Whose Fathers Were Absent During Childhood as Compared to Those Whose Fathers were Present.

Discussion.

This study examined the association between parental relationships and father absence on a number of aspects of female mate preferences in a sample of 103 Chinese and 48 British adolescent girls.

There were three main aims. Firstly, to assess whether there is an association between parent-daughter relationships and subsequent mate choice. In order to assess whether there were differences in mate selection between father absent and father present girls, those girls who stated that they had either never lived with their father (3%) or that their parents were separated and they lived with their mother (25.6%), were compared to those girls whose parents were together (55%), who had never lived with their mother (1.5%) and whose parents were separated and lived with their father (3%). Those individuals who stated that they had never lived with their biological parents (2.3%), or who stated that they belonged to the category ‘other’ (3%), were excluded from this analysis.

The results presented in table one reveal that there are significant differences between girls whose fathers were absent and girls whose fathers were present within a number of variables, thus supporting the hypothesis proposed. Girls whose fathers were present were significantly more concerned about the economic suitability of their future partners and were also significantly more concerned about the commitment of their future partners, than girls whose fathers were not present.

It was also thought important to assess the possibility that the timing of parental separation was influential in subsequent mate choice. In order to assess this, those individuals whose parents were separated, were categorised according to whether this split occurred before, or after, they were 13 years old and differences in mate selection were compared between the two groups. There were no significant differences observed between girls whose parents split up before they were 13 and girls whose parents split up afterwards, although there are two near significant relationships of note. Girls whose parents split up before they were 13 were more likely to desire sexual intercourse earlier on in a relationship and in addition they were more likely to desire short term partners who were younger than themselves.

In order to further assess whether there is a relationship between parent-daughter relationships and subsequent mate choice Spearman’s correlations were conducted for the sample as a whole on the data provided about the parent-child interaction and the mate selection variables. These results were presented in tables two and three. In terms of the mother-daughter relationship, significant positive correlations were observed between both the mother’s care and the partner’s age in both short and long term relationships. A significant negative correlation is also apparent between the mother’s overprotection and economic resources and a significant positive correlation between the mother’s overprotection and cues to commitment.

In terms of the father-daughter relationship a significant negative correlation is observed between father’s care and the girls concerns about their future partners economic resourcefulness, this is in support of the findings observed within the mother-daughter relationship and suggests that a strong parental relationship (within both mothers and fathers) is related to less economic concerns, possibly because these girls anticipate that they can reply on their immediate family if they get into financial strife. In addition there are significant positive correlations observed between father’s care and the girls desire to have a long term partner who was older than themselves. In terms of the father’s overprotection there are significant negative correlations observed with both the partner’s short term and long term age.

The positive correlation observed between parental care and the girls desire to have partners who are considerably older than themselves is difficult to explain. Presumably this reflects positively on the girls respect for their elders. This conclusion is backed up by the fact that there is a negative correlation observed between the father’s overprotection and the girls desire to have partners older than themselves, e.g. the greater the level of father’s overprotection the more likely the girls are to desire younger partners.

It should be borne in mind when interpreting the results in tables two and three that these conclusions are based solely on correlative data and thus the direction of causation cannot be determined.

The second hypothesis was to assess whether there are differences in mate choices between British and Chinese girls whose father’s were absent during their childhood. In order to assess this, individuals whose father’s were present (defined as above) were excluded from the analysis and differences between British and Chinese girls whose fathers were absent were examined using Mann Whitney. The results support the hypothesis proposed in that there are significant differences. Amongst girls whose fathers were absent during their childhood, there are significant differences between the Chinese and the British girls according to two of the variables assessed. British girls were significantly more concerned about the parental investments that would be made by their partners than Chinese girls. This may be a consequence of differences in culture. For example it is possible that British girls have an increased expectation of male parental investment given that in Britain women are more likely to work full time alongside men and are more career orientated. In addition, Chinese girls were significantly more interested than British girls in having short term partners who were older than themselves, although this difference was not apparent for long term partner preferences. The time of first sexual intercourse is also worthy of note in this context given that the significance levels fall just outside those which are traditionally accepted. Chinese girls were more likely to wait longer than British girls before having sexual intercourse with a partner for the first time again this is likely to reflect cultural differences between China and Britain.

The third and final aim was to assess whether there are differences between father absent and father present girls of either Chinese or British origin (see tables six and seven). Within Chinese girls there are significant differences between those whose fathers were present and those whose fathers were absent according to both economic resources and cues to commitment. Chinese girls whose fathers were present were significantly more concerned about economic resourcefulness and were significantly less concerned about cues to commitments, than Chinese girls whose fathers were absent.

Within British girls it is revealed that those whose fathers were present were significantly more concerned about cues to commitment then those whose fathers were absent. This stands in direct contrast to that observed within Chinese girls and it is presumed that this is a consequence of cultural differences. It is possible that British girls were more concerned about commitment because of the increased sexual liberation within Britain compared to China, while the Chinese girls were more concerned about economic provision because of sexual suppression in China and the increased difficulty in going out and seek employment themselves.

To the best of knowledge there are no other studies which have specifically examined the effects of father absence on mate preferences in either adolescent girls or boys with which to make direct comparison to the results obtained here. This is surprising as there is a bulk of literature examining the effects of father absence on sexual development and some of the most relevant literature is discussed her for comparison.

In a sample of 160 college aged girls, Fleck et al (1980) found that there was a significant relationship between father absence, as defined in a psychological rather than a physical respect (e.g fathers may have been living at home but were uninterested in their daughters), and increased frequency of sexual behaviour and anxiety. In a similar study conducted by Ellis et al (2003) the impact of father absence on sexual activity and teenage pregnancy was examined in a large sample of girls from the USA (n = 242) and New Zealand (n = 520). Father absence was strongly statistically associated with early sexual activity and adolescent pregnancy. This relationship between father absence and increased sexual activity has been repeatedly confirmed within many other studies within the literature (Hendricks et al, 2005). However, this study found no differences between the time of first sexual encounter between girls whose fathers were present and girls whose fathers were absent. It is possible that this is a consequence of methodological variation. In this study participants were asked to state when they preferred to engage in sexual behaviour with a new partner and when they would prefer a partner to want to have intercourse with them. Thus as this study asked about preferences and did not assess actual behaviour, this may account for the difference.

In terms of the age of parental separation there is evidence that the earlier the separation occurred the earlier sexual intercourse begins. For example, Quinlan (2003) examined the relationship between female reproductive development in a sample of 10,847 women. They found that the timing of parental separation was associated with reproductive development. Parental separation between birth and five years of age predicted early menarche, an earlier age of first sexual intercourse, earlier first pregnancies and also a shorter duration of the first marriage. This study supports these results in some respect given that there was a near significant decrease in the desired time of first sexual intercourse with a new partner amongst those girls whose parents split before they were 13years old.

A considerable body of evidence has also observed that there is a significant association between father absence and puberty in both boys and girls (Bogaert, 2005, Maestripieri et al, 2004). The differences between partner preference between girls with absent and present fathers may be related to this increased rate of developmental maturity. Girls who reach puberty faster may be more likely to experiment sexually at a younger age and consequently may prefer men older than themselves.

The findings obtained in the current research are also interesting in light of the findings obtained in a sample of 83 girls aged between 11-14years assessed by Maestripieri et al (2004). It was shown that father absence was associated with greater interest in infants as assesses through preferences for photos of human and animal infants. The authors conclude that this shows that father absence is related to an earlier readiness for parenting. In this study participants were asked about the number of children they wanted to have with their partner(s) and these results can be compared to that of Maestripieri et al. In support of Maestripieri et al there was a near significant difference observed between the number of children desired by girls whose fathers were present or absent. Girls whose father’s were absent wanted to have more children (1.95) than girls whose fathers were present (1.81, U = 1696.0, p = .059).

There are a number of limitations to the current study. The sample sizes of British and Chinese girls were not equal, that of the Chinese girls being considerably higher. Future research should focus on increasing the sample size of British girls. Examining differences within cultures other than the British and the Chinese, for example, African or Middle Eastern cultures in order to search for further cross cultural differences would also make an interesting extension to this study.

In addition it is important to examine the relationship amongst boys in comparison to girls. The evidence suggests that boys with absent fathers are also likely to hit puberty earlier (Bogaert, 2005) then those with present fathers and this suggests that mate preferences would also be affected. In fact it seems reasonable to presume that the effects in males might be greater than that on females due to the loss of the same sex parents. Surprisingly, however, it appears that the literature has tended to focus on the effects in girls more often. It is hoped that subsequent research will aim to rectify this.

This raises a related point, regarding the effects of mother absence on girls. As mothers tend to be the primary role model for girls, it is suggested that mother absence may be more likely to have more prominent effects in girls. However, as mother absence is much rarer that father absence, this would be a difficult study to conduct and recruitment would be time consuming.

As mentioned earlier this study is also limited as it asks only about the desires and concerns of these girls and does not take into consideration the actual behaviour of the girls. It would be interesting to conduct a follow up study with the same sample in order to compare these desires to actual behaviour as assessed a number of years down the line. Or to conduct the same study in a sample of older women for comparison, for example the characteristics of the husbands of women in their 30’s and 40’s.

Another possibly extension to this study would be to examine the possibility that father absence affects aspects of development other than mate preference. For example it might be interesting to assess the possibility that parental absence encourages homosexuality. In the current study the whole sample indicated that they were heterosexual and this illustrates the fact that in order to investigate this further a much larger sample size would be required. Examining the effects of parental absence on relationships aside from those of a romantic nature would also make an interesting extension. For example, father absence may have affect on peer relationships at school and sibling relationships within the family. Further research into the effects of father absence on aspects of personality, such as extraversion, introversion and neuroticism is also warranted given that Hendricks et al (2005) found that father absence had a detrimental affect on self esteem an affect which has been shown to be particularly pronounced in males (Miller, 1984). In a recent study, Huurre, Junkkari and Aro (2006), also found that individuals from families in which the parents divorced before the age of 16 were more likely to suffer from psychological problems, such as depression and were more likely to suffer from problems within their personal relationships. Again this suggests that further research into the affects of parent absence on personality and health is warranted.

In conclusion, this study has assessed the effects of father absent and father presence on mate preferences in Chinese and British adolescent girls. It was concluded that there are significant differences in mate preference according to father presence. Girls whose fathers were present were significantly more concerned about the economic suitability of their future partners and were also significantly more concerned about the commitment of their future partners.

This study also aimed to examine differences in mate choice according to the strength of the mother-daughter and the father-daughter relationship. Again it was concluded that there are differences apparent according to the strength of the relationship. There were some differences apparent between British and Chinese girls and these are presumed to be a consequence of cultural variation.

References.

Bogaert, A. F. (2005). Age at puberty and father absence in a national probability sample. Journal of Adolescence. 28(4) pp514-6.

Buss, D.M. & Barnes, M. (1986) Preferences in human mate selection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, pp.559-570.

Ellis, B. J., Bates, J. E., Dodge, K. A., Fergusson, D. M., Harwood, J., Pettit, G. S., & Woodward, L. (2003). Does father absence place daughters at special risk for early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy? Child Development, 74(3). pp801-821.

Fleck, J.R., Fuller, C.C.,

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