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Sex-Specific Developmental Effects of Father Absence on Casual Sexual Behavior and Life History Strategy




A substantial body of research has investigated the effects of early family environments on the sexual maturity and behavior of adolescents and young adults. Most of this research has focused primarily on (i) early childhood environments, (ii) these effects in females with much less attention devoted to males’ sexual maturity and behavior, and (iii) sexual behavior of adolescents and young adults. To address these limitations, we asked 392 adults (209 males, 183 females; ages 17–62) to report the ages at which they lived with their biological father across their first 20 years of development, their number of casual sex partners, and to complete a life history (LH) strategy measure. Consistent with theoretical predictions, males had more casual sex partners and a faster LH strategy than females. For both males and females, longer time spent growing up with their biological father was associated with fewer casual sex partners and a slower LH strategy. The current study also provides clear evidence of sex-specific developmental effects on reproductive strategies as a function of when during development father absence (FA) occurs. When FA occurred during middle childhood, females exhibited faster LH strategies; whereas, when FA occurred during adolescence, males exhibited faster LH strategies. Together, these findings suggest the effects of FA are not specific to females nor early childhood environments. In addition, effects of FA appear to persist beyond adolescence and early young adulthood with opposite effects on males’ and females’ reproductive strategies depending on when during development it occurs.

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Evolutionary Psychological Science

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