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"Ever Had Intercourse at 14 Years of Age or Younger"

by Current Religious Attendance and Structure of Family of Origin

The 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth shows that, among adolescents 14 and younger, those who grew up in married, intact families and currently attend weekly religious services are the least likely to have had sexual intercourse.

Description: Examining structure of family of origin, 12 percent of adolescents who grew up in an intact married family ever had sexual intercourse at 14 years of age or younger, followed by children of intact cohabiting families (14 percent), children of married stepfamilies (23 percent), single divorced-parent families (25 percent), cohabiting stepfamilies (27 percent) and always-single parent households (35 percent).

Examining only current religious attendance, only 14 percent of adolescents who currently attend weekly religious services have ever had sexual intercourse at 14 years of age or younger, compared to those who attend church one to three times a month (20 percent), less than monthly (24 percent), and those who never attend church (26 percent).

Examining current religious attendance and structure of family of origin combined, only 9 percent of adolescents who grew up in intact married families and currently attend church weekly have ever had sexual intercourse at 14 years of age or younger, followed by those who never attend church but grew up in an always intact married family (16 percent). Twenty-two percent of adolescents from all other family structures who attend church weekly have ever had sexual intercourse at 14 years of age or younger, followed by those who never attend church and grew up in all other family structures (29 percent).

Related Insights from Other Studies

Data from the Longitudinal cohort study, Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, found that adolescents aged 11 to 16 who were living with their biological parents were less likely to engage in sexual intercourse than were their peers who lived without both biological parents. [1] Data from a different study confirmed this same trend, that teens that live with both parents are significantly less likely to have ever had intercourse than their peers who do not live with both parents.[2]

Data from the National Survey of Family Growth also found that young girls who live with both of their biological parents at age 14 have a lower risk of first sexual intercourse than their peers who do not live with both biological parents at 14.[3]

One study found that those adolescents who emphasized the importance of religion in their lives were less likely to engage in premarital sexual activity. In this study, young women who attended church once or more per week were less likely to be sexually active than those who attended less often. Thirty-eight percent of young women who attended church once or more per week were sexually active. Of those who attended church less often, 65.4 percent were sexually active.[4]

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. and Scott Talkington, Ph.D.

Pat Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) at Family Research Council.

Scott Talkington has been Research Director for the National Association of Scholars and Senior Research Fellow at George Mason University School of Public Policy since 1998.


[1] Browning, C.R. T. Leventhal and J. Brooks-Gunn, "Neighborhood context and racial differences in early adolescent sexual activity, "Demography 41(4) 2004, PP. 697-720.

[2] Collins, R.L., M.N. Elliot, S.H. Berry, D.E. Kanouse, D. Kunkel, S.B. Hunter, "Watching sex on television predicts adolescent initiation of sexual behavior," Pediatrics 114( 3) 2004, pp. 280-289.

[3] Brewster, K. L., E.C. Cooksey, D.K. Guiley, R.R. Rindfuss, "The changing impact of religion on the sexual and contraceptive behavior of adolescent women in the United States," Journal of Marriage and Family 60(2) 1998, pp. 493-504..

[4] Studer, Marlena, Arland Thornton, "Adolescent Religiosity and Contraceptive Usage," Journal of Marriage and the Family 49(1) 1987, pp. 117-128.

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