Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


College of Social Work


Social Work

First Advisor

Naomi Farber


The primary goal of this study was to examine the direct, indirect, and total effects of family socioeconomic status, multiple types of early child abuse (physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect), and parental attachment on early sexual activity. Using prospective data, path analyses were conducted on the National Longitudinal study of Adolescent Health data. The study sample consisted of mainly Caucasian adolescents with an average age of 16 years, living mostly with biological parents and in households of about three persons. The majority of adolescents in the study sample reported early sexual activity and more than half reported at least one type of child abuse (physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect). Results revealed that a range of factors --family SES, child physical abuse, child sexual abuse, child neglect, and parental attachment -- were related with early sexual activity. However, the odds ratio indicated that physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse might not increase the odds of engaging in early sexual activity. The odds ratio for physical abuse and neglect indicated that there was almost equal probability (OR range, 0.80 to 0.88 for physical abuse and neglect) between the abused and non-abused adolescents having early sexual activity.

Using Baron and Kenny (1986) guidelines the results of path analyses suggested that, after adjusting the effects of family socioeconomic status, the total effect for sexual abuse was greater than the direct effect of family socioeconomic status. Even though sexual abuse was a significant factor, the odds ratio for child sexual abuse indicated that child sexual abuse may not increase the odds of engaging in early sexual activity. Further, the direct effects of each type of abuse were greater than total effects for multiple types of abuse and parental attachment. These analyses also revealed a history of abuse negatively affected the parent-child relationship of adolescents during the adolescence. Parental attachment emerged as an important protective factor that may reduce odds of adolescents engaging in early sexual activity as much as two times and hence the programs focusing on preventing teen pregnancy/STI need to focus on attachment, possibly educating parents on sustaining and strengthening parent-child attachments.