Does Absence Matter? A Comparison of Three Types of Father Absence in Rural Bangladesh

Mary K. Shenk, Kathrine Starkweather, Howard C. Kress, Nurul Alam

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33 Scopus citations


This paper examines the effects of three different types of father absence on the timing of life history events among women in rural Bangladesh. Age at marriage and age at first birth are compared across women who experienced different father presence/absence conditions as children. Survival analyses show that daughters of fathers who divorced their mothers or deserted their families have consistently younger ages at marriage and first birth than other women. In contrast, daughters whose fathers were labor migrants have consistently older ages at marriage and first birth. Daughters whose fathers died when they were children show older ages at marriage and first birth than women with divorced/deserted fathers and women with fathers present. These effects may be mediated by high socioeconomic status and high levels of parental investment among the children of labor migrants, and a combination of low investment, high psychosocial stress, and low alloparental investment among women with divorced/deserted fathers. Our findings are most consistent with the Child Development Theory model of female life history strategies, though the Paternal Investment and Psychosocial Acceleration models also help explain differences between women in low paternal investment situations (e. g., father divorced/abandoned vs. father dead). Father absence in and of itself seems to have little effect on the life history strategies of Bangladeshi women once key reasons for or correlates of absence are controlled, and none of the models is a good predictor of why women with deceased fathers have delayed life histories compared with women whose fathers are present.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-110
Number of pages35
JournalHuman Nature
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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