Fatherhood Helps Men Break Bad Habits

Posted November 18th, 2011 at 11:30 pm (UTC+0)
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(Photo: Stacy Anderson Photography via Flickr)

(Photo: Stacy Anderson Photography via Flickr)

Becoming a father can help men break some nasty habits.

A new long-term study in the Journal of Marriage and Family found significant decreases in crime, tobacco and alcohol use after men became fathers for the first time.

The 19-year study involved more than 200 males, between the ages of 12 to 31, who lived  in neighborhoods with higher-than-average rates of juvenile delinquency.

Researchers wanted to see how the subjects’ criminal behavior changed as they moved through adolescence into adulthood. The study also assessed how the men’s tobacco, alcohol and marijuana use evolved over that same period.

“These decreases were in addition to the general tendency of boys to engage less in these types of behaviors as they approach and enter adulthood,” says study lead author David Kerr, an assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University.

Looking at the influences of peer pressure on anti-social behavior and substance abuse, Kerr says men tend to spend less time with their childless peers once they become fathers.

They also devote more time to their immediate and extended families, possibly in church and community service, settings that are somewhat incompatible with behaviors like substance abuse and criminal behavior.

Professor David Kerr, study lead author (Photo: Oregon State University)

Professor David Kerr, study lead author (Photo: Oregon State University)

However, not all first-time fathers are pushed into making a change. Instead, they want to change or are drawn into taking positive steps to become a better person.

For example, Kerr says many men may be drawn to fatherhood as a demonstration of masculinity, which shows they can protect and provide for their families.

Men who were in their late 20s and early 30s when they became fathers showed greater decreases in crime and alcohol use as compared to those who had their first child much earlier, like in their teens or early 20s.

Kerr says that could be because men who had children later might have been more able or willing to embrace fatherhood and shed negative lifestyle choices.

“This research suggests that fatherhood can be a transformative experience, even for men engaging in high risk behavior,”  Kerr says, adding that new fathers might be especially willing and ready to hear a more positive message and make behavioral changes.

David Kerr joins us this weekend on the radio edition of “Science World.”  He’ll tell us how fatherhood can help men overcome bad habits. So, either tune into the show (see right column for scheduled times) or check out the interview below.

>>>> Listen to the interview here

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Other stories we cover on the “Science World” radio program this week include:

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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