Young men rethinking fatherhood, study says Fewer favor abortion

more would support child

December 26, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- When it comes to facing their responsibilities as potential fathers, young urban males have long heard the criticisms: They don't care. They're self-centered. And too many of them regard children out of wedlock as an inconvenience for the mother to worry about -- not them.

But young men's attitudes appear to be shifting markedly, a new Urban Institute study indicates.

The percentage of 17- to 19-year-old males who favor an abortion if they make an unmarried girl pregnant has steadily declined in recent years, according to the study published this month in Family Planning Perspectives. In 1979, 25 percent suggested an abortion, it said. But in 1995, the most recent survey data available, just 14 percent endorsed that idea.

Even more striking, the percentage who favored having the baby and helping support it tripled over the same period -- from about 20 percent to 60 percent.

Still, the data suggest that many young men don't want to become too involved. The percentage who said they'd marry the person they made pregnant has dropped from 18 percent nearly two decades ago to a mere 8 percent.

While generally encouraged by the findings, some researchers and counselors aren't sure how much the data reflect an actual shift in adolescent male thinking.

Although the study mostly focused on changing sexual behavior among male teens, it included data from three similar surveys, each involving an ethnically and racially mixed group of never-married males 17 to 19 years old. Johns Hopkins University researchers conducted the first interviews of 609 males in 1979. The Urban Institute -- a nonpartisan research group in Washington -- followed up with surveys of 745 males in 1988 and 733 more in 1995.

Leighton Ku, the Urban Institute's senior research associate who led the study, concedes that it's hard to know how many of the respondents were being truthful. Nevertheless, he says, the fact that fewer teens are having sex and the number of abortions has declined in recent years suggests that attitudes are changing. He also suspects the emphasis on personal responsibility at such events as the Million Man March and among such groups as Promise Keepers may be partly responsible.

"At least the [survey] attitudes that are being espoused are going in the right direction," Ku says. "The altruism is there, and that is good."

Pub Date: 12/26/98

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