By Carolyn Crist

When young women use abortion services, the adolescent men who avoid becoming teenaged fathers go on to have better educational and financial futures than peers who do become teen fathers, a U.S. study suggests.

Young men who were involved in a pregnancy before age 20 that ended in abortion were more likely to pursue post-high school education and to graduate from college, according to the analysis in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“As we see more abortion restrictions being passed across many states, it’s important to consider the potential broader consequence of these restrictions,” said lead study author Bethany Everett of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

“We are seeing an influx of laws being passed that criminalize women who have abortions and abortion providers, and yet we never discuss male partners and how they may benefit from access to abortion,” she told Reuters Health by email.

Everett and colleagues analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, a long-term study of adolescents recruited in the early 1990s and followed into adulthood.

They focused on a group of nearly 600 young men, interviewed when they were in their late 20s and early 30s, who reported involvement in a pregnancy before age 20. About 23% of the pregnancies were terminated with an abortion.

The researchers found that about 6% of those who reported a live birth graduated from college, compared with 22% of those whose partners had abortions. In addition, 32% of the teen fathers had post-high school education compared with 59% of men whose partners had an abortion.

“The gaps in college achievement are stark, and the disparity in college completion persisted after accounting for several factors, including their socioeconomic background, race, family structure, and desire to go to college as teens,” Everett said.

The research team also observed an income difference between those who reported abortions and those who reported live births, but it was not as significant. Teenage fathers were earning an average of about $33,000 a year at the time they were interviewed while those who did not become teen fathers had about $39,000 in annual income.

However, about 26% of men who were teenage fathers lived below the federal poverty line, as compared with 9% of those who did not become fathers as teens.

Among the men who had a child as a teen, 42% were living with their child 10 years after birth. Those who lived with their child were more likely to have graduated from college and less likely to report depression symptoms, the study team found.

Future studies should look at the differences among men who wanted to become fathers and those who didn’t, said Diana Greene Foster of the University of California, San Francisco, who wasn’t involved in the study. Men who want to become fathers at a young age may see the sacrifice and extra struggle to gain an education to be worth it, she noted.

“To do the best by all teenagers, we need to make abortion accessible and also make it possible for young parents to be supported to stay in school,” she told Reuters Health by email. “This means covered maternity and paternity leave, and assistance with childcare for parents in high school and college.”

Socioeconomic factors have been linked to several benefits in the father-child relationship, such as better co-parenting behavior, increased caregiving and nurturing, and greater frequency of child visits, said Luciana Assini-Meytin of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, who also wasn’t involved in the current study.

“Not all adolescents who experience teen parenting are doomed to a life of poor outcomes. Some do well, despite an early childbirth; others don’t,” she said in an email. “We need to better understand the mechanisms by which teen fathers are able to succeed.”

SOURCE: Journal of Adolescent Health, online July 2, 2019.