Several studies have found that parental absences in childhood are associated with individuals’ reproductive strategies later in life. However, these associations vary across populations and the reasons for this heterogeneity remain debated. In this paper, we examine the diversity of parental associations in three ways. First, we test whether different kinds of parental availability in childhood and adolescence are associated with women’s and men’s ages at first birth using the intergenerational and longitudinal Uppsala Birth Cohort Study (UBCoS) dataset from Sweden. This cultural context provides a strong test of the hypothesis that parents influence life history strategies given that robust social safety nets may buffer parental absences. Second, we examine whether investments in education help explain why early parental presence is associated with delayed ages at first birth in many post-industrial societies, given that parents often support educational achievement. Third, we compare parental associations with reproductive timing across two adjacent generations in Sweden. This historical contrast allows us to control for many sources of heterogeneity while examining whether changing educational access and norms across the 20th-century change the magnitude and pathways of parental influence. We find that parental absences tend to be associated with earlier first births, and more reliably so for women. Many of these associations are partially mediated by university attendance. However, we also find important differences across cohorts. For example, the associations with paternal death become similar for sons and daughters in the more recent cohort. One possible explanation for this finding is that fathers start influencing sons and daughters more similarly. Our results illustrate that historical changes within a population can quickly shift how family affects life history.
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