To more accurately reflect the policy issues, we limit our analysis to mothers aged 15-17.
(Comparable data for mothers aged 14 and younger were unavailable.) In addition, we focus on young women whose partner was at least five years older; such men are referred to as "older" partners throughout.
This five-year age difference approximates the typical legal criterion for statutory rape in the five largest states, although other states may use stricter or looser criteria.
Using this five-year definition of age differences between 15-17-year-olds and their partners, we examine three related questions: What is the frequency with which children of 15-17-year-olds are fathered by older men?
Although Landry and Forrest provided a number of measures of age-gaps between fathers and mothers, often just one combination is cited—that of mothers aged 15-19 with partners aged 20 or older; in their study, 65% of 15-19-year-old mothers had a partner aged 20 or older.
Grouping together 15-19-year-olds and their partners ages 20 and older may misrepresent the issue of adolescents bearing children with older men.
While a 25-year-old man fathering a child with a 15-year-old would probably meet with social disapproval, the same might not be true for a couple consisting of a 21-year-old and an 18-year-old, particularly if they were married.
Second, many relationships between men 20 or older and women 19 or younger do not violate any state's law, provided there is no forcible rape or incest.
Finally, how do the socioeconomic characteristics of the older men who father children with minors differ from those of other adult fathers, and from those of younger fathers?First, regardless of the mother's age, the pattern of fathers being slightly older than mothers fits squarely within societal norms.For example, in 1988, babies born to women aged 21-30 were fathered by men who were, on average, three years older than their partner.Among mothers aged 15-17 who had a child in 1988, 27% had a partner at least five years older than themselves.In addition, since 23% of minors with older partners were married at the time of the infant's birth, 21% of babies born to unmarried minors were fathered by substantially older men.
Although statutory rape laws vary from state to state, they always pertain only to minors—individuals younger than age 18, but the age threshold is lower in many states.