Father Absence and Reproduction-Related Outcomes in Malaysia, a Transitional Fertility Population

Hum Nat. 2014 Jun;25(2):213-34. doi: 10.1007/s12110-014-9195-2.


Father absence is consistently associated with children's reproductive outcomes in industrialized countries. It has been suggested that father absence acts as a cue to particular environmental conditions that influence life history strategies. Much less is known, however, about the effects of father absence on such outcomes in lower-income countries. Using data from the 1988 Malaysian Family Life Survey (n = 567), we tested the effect of father absence on daughters' age at menarche, first marriage, and first birth; parity progression rates; and desired completed family size in Malaysia, a country undergoing an economic and fertility transition. Father absence during later childhood (ages 8 to 15), although not during earlier childhood, was associated with earlier progressions to first marriage and first birth, after controlling for other confounders. Father absence does not affect age at menarche, desired family size, or progression from first to second birth. The patterns found in this transitional population partly mirror those in developed societies, where father absence accelerates reproductive events. There is, however, a notable contrast between the acceleration in menarche for father-absent girls consistently found in developed societies and the lack of any association in our findings. The mechanisms through which father absence affects reproduction may differ in different ecological contexts. In lower-income contexts, direct paternal investment or influence may be of more importance in determining reproductive behavior than whether fathers act as a cue to environmental conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Family
  • Family Characteristics
  • Fathers*
  • Female
  • Fertility / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Malaysia
  • Male
  • Marriage*
  • Menarche / physiology*
  • Parity / physiology
  • Paternal Deprivation*
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproduction / physiology*