[ Main Page of Report | Contents of Report ]
In this chapter, we begin with an examination of the literature on youth risky behaviors. Although the purpose of this report is to focus on the adult consequences of youthful risky behavior, it is important to put this into perspective by examining literature on the risk and protective factors for adolescent risky behaviors and the adolescent outcomes of these risky behaviors. Literature on the relationships of three family variables--family structure, socioeconomic status (parental education), and parental alcoholism--with successful or failed adult outcomes is also reviewed.
Much of the research examining adolescent risky behaviors is centered on the factors that predict or co-vary with their occurrence. Risk factors are those variables that increase the likelihood that a certain negative outcome, in this case, risky adolescent behavior, will occur. Protective factors buffer the influence of risk factors on outcomes. The literature covers a vast array of risk factors that are thought to act as precursors to adolescent risky behavior. Examples of risk and protective factors related to the adolescent risk behaviors we examine in this report--early sex, alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine initiation and delinquency--are discussed in the rest of this section. The literature is diverse in terms of the factors studied, but a consistent set of relationships emerge.
Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), Resnick, et al. (1997) examined the relationships of family, school, and individual risk and protective factors with the adolescent risky behaviors of suicide ideation and attempts, violence, cigarette use, alcohol use, marijuana use, age of sexual initiation, and pregnancy history. Among the many results reported, there was evidence that low grade point average and being held back a grade in school were associated with more substance use and sexual behavior. Family-related variables, such as parent or family connectedness, as well as school connectedness served as protective factors against all adolescent risk behaviors except for pregnancy. Parental attitudes also played a protective role in initiation of sex. Parents who were more disapproving of early sex initiation were more likely to have children with later age of onset of sexual behavior.
Review of the male delinquency and crime literature by Loeber and Dishion (1983) and Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber (1987) revealed several factors that stood out as predictors of male offending. The important variables that were linked to higher levels of male offending were poor parental child management style, childhood antisocial behavior, parental and sibling criminality, low intelligence, low educational attainment, and separation from parents.
Analysis of risk and protective factors data from the youth module of the 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) showed a few factors that were particularly predictive of past-year marijuana use in adolescents (OAS, 2001). Controlling for demographic and other factors related to drug use, logistic regression analyses showed that the variables with the est relationship to past year use of marijuana were easy availability of marijuana, perceptions of close friends' more positive attitudes toward monthly marijuana use, actual marijuana use by close friends, and perceptions of low risk from marijuana use. For past-year alcohol use by 12 to 17 year olds, a slightly different set of factors arose in the final model. Past-year shoplifting, perceptions of parents' more negative attitudes toward binge drinking weekly, and anyone offering marijuana had the est relationship with alcohol use, although the predictive power of variables in this model was small in comparison with those from the final model predicting marijuana use.
Kosterman, et al. (2000) also found some similarities and some differences when comparing risk and protective factors for alcohol and marijuana initiation. Respondents in their Seattle Social Development Project were initially surveyed as fifth-graders and then again in almost every subsequent year until they were 18 years old. These researchers found that peer use of a given substance was directly predictive of initiation of that substance, for both alcohol and marijuana. For alcohol initiation, parents' alcohol use norms served as a protective factor. For marijuana initiation, parents' proactive family management was the key protective factor. Respondents own personal norms for substance use were predictive of marijuana initiation but not for alcohol initiation.
There is some evidence that the risk factors for initiation of risky behaviors may be distinct from risk factors for more regular use or abuse of these behaviors (Scheier and Newcomb, 1991). Weber, et al. (1989), for example, categorize two distinct pathways of adolescent alcohol use. In this view, normally socialized adolescents consume alcohol at a more steady pace while those who are "problem prone" show more rapid acceleration of alcohol involvement after initiation occurs. Scheier, et al. (1997) suggest that social learning factors such as peer and adult models and normative expectations are important ingredients in predicting initial stages of adolescent alcohol use. Personality components may be a key part of alcohol abuse later in young adulthood. These researchers found that several psychological factors--behavioral control, depression, anxiety, external locus of control, antisocial behavior, and low self-esteem--were significant predictors of alcohol consumption and change in drinking patterns from onset to more problematic drinking.
The Problem Behavior Theory presents one way of categorizing the risk factors predictive of adolescent risky behavior. Leading theorists, Jessor, Donovan, and Costa (1991) describe the three major systems of psychosocial risk and protective factors that are responsible for occurrence of risky behavior as the personality system, the perceived environment system, and the behavior system. When the variables in a given system are geared up for the occurrence of a problem, that system is in a state of proneness. When all three systems are in this state, then an individual shows overall psychosocial proneness toward a particular problem behavior.
This approach implies that adolescent risky behaviors such as early substance use, precocious sexual behavior, and delinquency are symptoms of an underlying trait (Jessor and Jessor, 1977). Using longitudinal data, Donovan, Jessor, and Costa (1988) concluded that a single common factor was responsible for the positive associations among a number of adolescent antisocial behaviors, including problem drinking, marijuana use, precocious sexual intercourse, and delinquency. Similarly, Patterson (1993) discusses a core antisocial trait that makes its appearance in various risk behaviors. Problem Behavior Theorists refer to these risky behaviors as a syndrome of problem behavior with a high degree of interrelatedness among the behaviors.
In their comprehensive review of the literature on predictors of adolescent drug abuse, Hawkins, et al. (1992) came up with a classification scheme that helps break down the overwhelming number of risk factors into manageable categories. They divided risk factors into two main groups: contextual and individual/interpersonal. Contextual factors include laws and norms encouraging substance use, easy availability of a substance, economic disadvantage, and neighborhood disorganization. Individual/interpersonal factors consist of: physiology, family substance use and attitudes, poor and inconsistent family management, high family conflict, low family bonding, early and persistent problem behaviors, academic failure, low commitment to school, peer rejection early in school, affiliation with substance-using peers, rebelliousness and alienation from society's values, pro-drug use attitudes, and early initiation of substance use. From their review, Hawkins, et al. drew some general conclusions about risk for drug abuse. Among their conclusions they reported that risk factors showed consistency over time. The same risk factors have been identified for different cohorts. They also determined that the greater number of risk factors, the greater the risk of drug abuse.
[Go To Contents]
Most literature on adolescent consequences of risky behaviors focuses on risky behaviors as outcomes, with some studies examining other outcomes such as educational attainment and employment. Risky behaviors beget other risky behaviors. The fact that adolescent risky behaviors often co-occur makes engaging in any one risky behavior a risk factor for engaging in another. Lindberg, Boggess, and Williams' (1999) results somewhat support the interconnectedness of adolescent risk behaviors. These researchers studied the co-occurrence of adolescent risk behaviors using data from 7th to 12th graders in the 1995 Add Health survey. They found that 28 percent of 7th to 12th graders indicated engaging in two or more risk behaviors, including regular or recent substance use, fighting, carrying a weapon, suicidal thoughts and ideation, and unprotected sexual intercourse. More than one-quarter of students, though, only participated in a single risky behavior. For all of the risk behaviors they examined, except for one, at least three-quarters of the students engaging in it were also involved in another risk behavior.
In a study using two large national data sets, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and Add Health, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA 1999) found that teenagers who consume alcohol or take illicit drugs are more likely to engage in sex, to do so at a younger age, and to have several partners. For adolescents who are 14 and younger, consuming alcohol or using drugs doubles and quadruples, respectively, the likelihood that sexual intercourse has ever been experienced compared to adolescents who have never used these substances. Moore, et al (1995) reported that early onset of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs; school problems; delinquency; and physical aggression are significantly associated with early onset of sexual behavior. Alcohol use in adolescence has also been found to be related to more frequent sexual activity and less frequent use of condoms (Cooper, Peirce, and Huselid, 1994).
Another example of adolescent risky behaviors occurring in conjunction with each other comes from research using the 1998 NHSDA (OAS, 2000). In this report, about 40 percent of alcohol users age 12 to 17 were also current illicit drug users. This percentage increased to 58 percent of binge drinkers and 69 percent of heavy drinkers who had used an illicit drug in the past month. Past-year criminal activity also co-occurred with substance use. Adolescents who had consumed alcohol in the previous month were more likely than those who had not to also have engaged in criminal activity in the past year. In general, the heavier the alcohol use, the greater the probability of criminality. Adolescents who drank in a heavy manner were more likely than lighter drinkers to be involved in a variety of delinquent acts and to show aggressive behavior, such as physically attacking people or destroying property.
Johnson, Arria, et al (1995) identified a connection in preadolescence between early, unsanctioned alcohol use (without permission from their parents) and higher levels of conduct problems. Earlier alcohol use was also associated with accelerated growth of conduct problem behaviors during the transition to early adolescence. The literature on adolescent conduct problems and substance use supports the notion of an "externalizing (behavioral) path" leading to substance use, particularly for males (Hussong, Curran, and Chassin, 1998). Windle (1990) found that even when holding early substance use constant, early adolescent delinquency predicted later substance use.
Each adolescent risk behavior also has some very specific consequences. We present these consequences, categorized under the relevant adolescent risk behavior.
The logical concerns arising from adolescent sexual behavior are pregnancy, parenthood, infection with a sexually transmitted disease, and exposure to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Individuals who begin having sex at earlier ages are exposed to risk for a greater length of time, are less likely to use contraception, have more sexual partners, and are involved in high risk sexual behavior, such as substance use before intercourse (Moore, et al., 1995). Moore, et al also reported that another possible concern about early sexual behavior is that first sexual experiences are often coercive. An astonishing majority of first sexual experiences that occurred before age 15 among females were not voluntary. Coercion is damaging in itself, but it is also associated with improper or no use of contraception.
Conduct problems in childhood and early adolescence have been found to be associated with substance use problems later in adolescence (Lynskey and Fergusson, 1995; Windle, 1990). Results from Bergmark and Andersson's (1999) longitudinal study that followed Swedish participants from childhood to adulthood revealed that the earlier the conduct problems for boys, the more frequent the occurrence of adolescent drunkenness. Other research has found a significant relationship between delinquency and school attachment. Liska and Reed (1985) used data from the first two waves of the Youth in Transition study to examine this issue. They found that attachment to school has no influence on adolescent violence, but the reverse of this relationship, that violence decreases school attachment, was significant.
A possible consequence for adolescents who engage in substance use behavior is that this risky behavior can lead to increased, problematic use of a given substance. Early initiation of alcohol use was predictive of later adolescent problem drinking (Fergusson, Lynskey, and Horwood, 1994; Hawkins, et al, 1997; Pedersen and Skrondal, 1998). Kosterman, et al. (2000) found a connection between age of initiation of alcohol use and alcohol misuse later in adolescence. Hawkins, et al. (1997) also found that the younger the age of alcohol initiation, the greater the level of alcohol-related problems in late adolescence (see also Gruber, et al 1996). In this study, age of initiation served as a mediator of effects of ethnicity, parents' alcohol consumption, proactive parenting, school bonding, friends' alcohol initiation, and perceptions of alcohol's harmfulness on alcohol misuse in late adolescence (Hawkins, et al., 1997). In other words, when age of initiation was entered into the model predicting adolescent alcohol misuse, these formerly significant variables no longer showed any effect on the outcome. Fergusson, Lynskey, and Horwood (1997) reported that onset of marijuana use before age 15 had a relationship with later marijuana use.
There is also legitimate concern that adolescent substance use can lead to use of "harder" substances. Yamaguchi and Kandel (1984) provided evidence for a gateway model of drug use. In their model, use of softer substances, such as alcohol and cigarettes, open the gates to the use of marijuana, which in turn makes the use of other illicit drugs more likely.
Earlier adolescent marijuana use has been found to increase the risk of a variety of negative outcomes in later adolescence. Early marijuana use is predictive of not graduating from high school; delinquency; mental health problems; having multiple sex partners; inconsistent condom use; perception of drugs as not harmful; having problems with alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs; and having deviant friends (Brook, Balka, and Whiteman, 1999; Fergusson and Horwood, 1997). Fergusson and Horwood (1997) examined the issue of marijuana use and adjustment in adolescence with data from a longitudinal study in which a sample of New Zealand children were surveyed regularly from birth to age 18 years old. Even after controlling for childhood, family, and other potential risk factors, those respondents who indicated early marijuana use, especially more frequent use, were more likely to have a marijuana use disorder, use other substances, be unemployed, engage in delinquent acts, and drop out of school early by age 18.
[Go To Contents]
Although a large number of studies examining consequences of adolescent risky behavior look at these consequences in adolescence, some research has focused on adult outcomes. The relevant research is presented below according to the type of risky adolescent behavior investigated.
Childhood delinquency has been found to be related to various negative adult outcomes. Research points to a distinction between short-term delinquent behavior that the individual outgrows and "career" criminality. Sampson and Laub (1990, 1993), in some of the most comprehensive studies on this subject to date, used data from the Gluecks' (1950) study, which looked at 500 delinquent boys and 500 non-delinquent boys born between 1924 and 1935 and followed them for 18 years. They found that, in adulthood, delinquents were more likely to have various negative outcomes including: charged with offenses in the military, excessive alcohol use, general deviance, arrest, economic dependence (welfare), unstable employment, divorce and separation. They were also less likely to have graduated from high school. Sampson and Laub also determined that job stability in young adulthood, commitment to educational and occupational goals, and attachment to spouse all have a large inverse relationship with measures of adult crime and deviance, and are predictive of later behaviors. Delinquents who later develop social bonds, such as attachments to spouses or work, tended to have fewer problems in adulthood than did other delinquents. While there is substantial evidence that criminal behavior continues, social ties in adulthood can explain changes in criminality over the life span.
Males with childhood conduct disorder are more likely than other males to have antisocial personality disorder as adults and to suffer with alcohol and drug dependence (Offord and Bennett, 1994). They are also likely to commit more crime in adulthood and are more likely to suffer premature death (Kratzer and Hodgins, 1997). Among women, those with a conduct disorder are more likely to have an internalizing (emotional) psychiatric disorder as adults (Offord and Bennet, 1994). Like men, they also are more likely to commit crimes and abuse substances as adults; however, most girls with conduct disorders do not experience any of these problems. When assessing the links between delinquency and adult crime, Robins (1978, p. 611) notes, "[The diagnosis of] Adult antisocial behavior virtually requires childhood antisocial behavior [yet] most antisocial youths do not become antisocial adults". Although adult crime rates may be higher for those who were involved in delinquency, most delinquents do not commit crimes as adults.
Bardone, et al (1998) found that, after controlling for numerous confounding variables, conduct disorder at age 15 predicted several health outcomes at age 21 including more medical problems, lower self-reported overall health, lower body mass index, alcohol and/or marijuana dependence, tobacco dependence, daily smoking, more lifetime sexual partners, sexually transmitted disease, and early pregnancy. Studies examining the predictive power of childhood aggression have determined that children rated as aggressive at ages 8-10 were more likely to be rated as aggressive at age 32. Aggression in childhood also predicted conviction of a violent crime, unemployment, use of tobacco and illicit drugs, and driving while intoxicated. This predictive power decreased over time, but was still significant at age 32 (Farrington, 1991).
Vitelli's (1997) study of prison inmates found that those who were early starters (first arrest before age 14) had higher rates of substance abuse than late starters or inmates who were never juvenile delinquents. Late starters, however, had a higher rate of lifetime violence. Females and males who were identified as juvenile delinquents were also significantly more likely to perpetuate abuse in intimate relationships (Giordano, et al 1999). Although the specific longitudinal links between delinquency and adult outcomes have not been fully elucidated, Hagan (1997) has shown that involvement in delinquent subculture causes strain on school and work roles, which increase the likelihood that delinquents drop out of high school. Although school dropout did not appear to negatively affect them when interviewed in their early 20s, by the time they reached their mid-30s, they were more likely to be unemployed and to feel despair. Monk-Turner (1989) also looked at education and found that holding several background variables constant, high school delinquents complete fewer years of schooling. However, she also showed that, after controlling for years of schooling and other background variables, involvement in delinquency during high school did not significantly shape adult occupational status.
The few economic studies that explore the critical issue of inter-temporal linkage between youth risky behaviors and adult outcomes produce somewhat mixed results. Anderson, Mitchell, and Butler (1993) studied the effect of deviance during adolescence on the choice of jobs as adults. They analyzed data from the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Program surveys to ascertain whether deviance during adolescence increases the likelihood an individual will develop mental health disorders in adulthood and simultaneously has negative effects on educational attainment. They also investigated whether deviance during adolescence has indirect effects, through education and mental health disorders in adulthood, on the probability of working and occupational choice. Their results indicated that deviance during adolescence has significant negative effects on future labor market outcomes. Levitt and Lochner (2000) attempted to explore the effect of criminal participation status at young ages on educational outcomes, labor market outcomes, and family measures at age 30 using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-1979 cohort. There was only a small negative correlation between youth crime and adult work, which might be the result of unobserved heterogeneity. There were significant differences in educational attainments between criminals and non-criminals. They found no difference in marriage and fertility patterns.
Early substance use has been associated repeatedly with later substance misuse in adulthood. Using 1988 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data, Chou and Pickering (1992) found that early onset drinking poses increased risk for lifetime alcohol-related problems. Having a first drink at age 15 or younger increased the odds of later having 3 or more alcohol-related problems, which are similar to criteria for alcohol dependence. A delay in drinking until age 20 or 21 sharply reduced risk of developing alcohol-related problems. Grant and Dawson (1997), using cross-sectional data from the nationally representative National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiological Survey (NLAES), found for each additional year that passed before initiation of drinking, the risk for development of alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse decreased by 14 percent and 8 percent, respectively. (1) Even when controlling for family alcoholism, earlier age of initiation into alcohol consumption was associated with increased likelihood of alcohol dependence (Grant, 1998). In a longitudinal study, Guy, Smith and Bentler (1994) found that a general drug use factor in adolescence predicted drug use 12 years later in young adulthood. This study helps to confirm the idea that there is some stability of drug use across adolescence and young adulthood.
Prescott and Kendler (1999), using twin study structured psychiatric interviews, also found evidence for an association between early drinking onset and risk for alcohol dependence but less evidence for an association with alcohol abuse. They suggest that the relationship between alcohol initiation and diagnosis of alcohol dependence is non-causal so any attempts to prevent dependence by delaying the onset will probably not work. They argue that both early initiation of alcohol use and adult alcohol dependence are manifestations of vulnerability. Their shared vulnerability hypothesis claims that both behaviors tap into the underlying dimension of proneness to problematic alcohol involvement.
Jessor, et al.'s (1991) study revealed a relationship between youthful substance use and some, but not all, adult outcomes. These researchers studied the impact of a large array of risky adolescent behavior on adult outcomes with the use of longitudinal data drawn from two samples of young people in a single city. One sample consisted of junior high students first surveyed in 1969 and followed up several times until 1981 when they were ages 25-27 (the High School Study). The other group was made up of college freshman first surveyed in 1970 and then five more times in the next 11 years (the College Study). Their results provided support for the Problem Behavior Theory's relevance to problem behavior in young adulthood, rather than just in adolescence. Roughly the same proportion of variance was accounted for in explaining adolescent and young adult problem behavior using psychosocial variables related to this perspective.. Results provide evidence for a syndrome of problem behavior in young adulthood as well as in adolescence. Results showed that involvement in problem behaviors in adolescence was related to later engagement in problem behaviors in adulthood.
Outcome measures other than those related to problem behaviors were also examined, namely educational and occupational attainment. Deviant behaviors (behaviors that violate societal or legal norms apart from substance use) in adolescence were related to later decreased educational attainment (for all except the College Study women). For the High School Study men and women, multiple problem behaviors in adolescence were also predictive of decreased educational attainment in adulthood. They found no significant relationship between measures of psychosocial proneness from youth and later occupational attainment (composite measure of occupational prestige). When education was held constant, psychosocial proneness to problem behavior did account for variation in occupational attainment for the High School Study men.
Newcomb and Bentler's (1988) "precocious transitions" theory provides a challenge to Problem Behavior Theory in that the latter would suggest that the effects of adolescent drug use should be the same as the effects of general proneness to deviance. In an important study, Newcomb and Bentler found very specific consequences connected to different types of substances, rather than just one typical adult outcome. Newcomb and Bentler found that, consistent with their theory, illicit drug use during adolescence speeds up the typical developmental process and forces the adolescent user into adult roles without appropriate skills to handle them. An important step of development is missed when an adolescent is not allowed to gain any practice at these new roles. These "precocious" movements into adult roles increase the likelihood of failing at these roles in the long run.
Newcomb and Bentler (1988) approached the issue of adolescent risky behavior's connection with adult outcomes using a longitudinal design in which they surveyed junior high school students from 11 schools in Los Angeles County through their early twenties (1976-1984). These researchers were concerned primarily with the adolescent risky behaviors of alcohol and illicit drug use. In this highly influential study, they found a multitude of adult consequences associated with risky teenage behavior.
In their study, general drug use (including alcohol, marijuana, and hard drugs) as an adolescent directly decreased the likelihood of attending college, but was associated with an increase in income in young adulthood. In addition, general drug use in adolescence was directly related to job instability. A few of the other young adulthood outcome variables of which adolescent general drug use was predictive were: earlier marriage, earlier childbirth, divorce, involvement in drug crimes, stealing, and psychoticism.
Each specific type of adolescent drug use revealed a different network of associations with young adult outcomes. In their final confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) model predicting adult outcomes from 12 substance use measures, hard drug use as a teenager was related to earlier family creation, less likelihood of graduating from high school, increased income, adult suicidal ideation, loneliness, and less social support. Marijuana use as an adolescent was positively associated with the number of times unemployment compensation was collected as an adult. Hashish use as an adolescent was only significantly related to more stealing episodes and job instability later in life. The influence of adolescent alcohol use appeared to work substantially differently than other substance use. Adolescent alcohol use apart from general drug use predicted earlier marriage. Adolescent alcohol use also predicted lower levels of property crimes, confrontational acts, loneliness, and college involvement; greater likelihood of full-time employment or being in the military; more social support; and happiness with one's sex life. They reported that adolescent alcohol use was also related to decreased social conformity and religious commitment in adulthood. These researchers speculated that early use of alcohol may help individuals become part of a social network by reducing inhibitions, thus enabling them to learn appropriate social competencies.
Newcomb and Bentler (1988) reported that cocaine use during early and late adolescence was associated with increased number of relationships, increased number of aggressive or confrontational acts, reduced number of theft episodes, reduced degree of happiness with being close to someone and increased chances of divorce in young adulthood. In another report, Newcomb and Bentler (1993) found that frequency of cocaine use in young adulthood was uniquely predicted by early illicit drug use and late adolescent alcohol use. The only unique outcome from adolescent cocaine use was dealing cocaine later in life.
Teenage drug use in Newcomb and Bentler's (1988) study showed very few direct effects on the young adult sexual behavior and relationship variables for women. The impact of the general drug use factor on young adulthood sex outcomes was mediated through teenage sexual behavior and social conformity. For women the only direct effects from adolescence to young adulthood were: adolescent hard drug use related to less happiness with being close to someone and greater number of relationships, and alcohol use related to greater number of steady partners. Similar to the results for women, there was a lack of a direct influence of early drug use on young adult male sex and relationship outcomes. The effects of drug use were again mediated through social conformity and early sexual involvement. The only direct effect of drug use on young adulthood sex and relationship variables for men was that cannabis use as an adolescent was related to an increased number of steady partners in adulthood.
Other researchers have also found evidence for a link between early substance use and precocious transitions to adult roles. Krohn, Lizotte, and Perez (1997) collected data using a 10-year wave panel study (Rochester Youth Development Study), starting with seventh and eighth graders. For females in their study, early substance use was associated with parenthood, living apart from parents, and the total number of precocious transitions. Early alcohol and drug use for males was related to getting someone pregnant, becoming teenage parents, dropping out of school, leaving the parental home, and accumulation of precocious transitions. In turn, those respondents who experienced off-time transitions to adult roles were more likely to be engaging in substance use in their early twenties, even when controlling for earlier substance use, peer use and other related variables.
Another adolescent risk behavior that was examined as part of Newcomb and Bentler's (1988) study was early sexual involvement. Early sexual involvement ly predicted many outcome measures in young adulthood. Early sexual involvement for women was correlated with more dating competence, increased number of relationships, more frequent intercourse, greater likelihood of an abortion, and greater likelihood of contracting venereal disease. All of these outcome variables were also correlated with men's early sexual involvement (except for occurrence of an abortion), and additionally, less effectiveness of birth control and greater satisfaction with intimacy.
Precocious sexual behavior often has as its consequence teenage pregnancy, which in turn is related to several negative adult outcomes. Teenage parents, in comparison to their counterparts, are more likely to receive less education, be poor and receive welfare as adults (Hayes, 1987; Rosenheim, 1992). There is some evidence though that a particular subset of women may actually find some success later in adulthood even when following an alternative life course to the traditional route of high school graduation, employment, marriage, and childbirth (Furstenberg, Hughes, and Brooks-Gunn, 1992; Hamburg and Dixon, 1992). African American young women who are from extremely disadvantaged situations and who see few available employment options may start this series of life events with childbirth. kinship networks appear to be a necessity for success in this approach, functioning to support the young woman in establishing a household and caring for children. If child bearing is complete by age twenty, the young woman following this path can enter the work force at a young age without taking time off for childbirth or paying for childcare.
[Go To Contents]
Past research has emphasized the important role that family-related variables play in the prediction of various adolescent risky behaviors (e.g., Hawkins, et al., 1992; Kandel, 1996). It also seems likely that the impact of adolescent risk factors on adult outcomes is influenced, for the better or worse, by the adolescent's family unit. Family structure research has shown that divorce can be a major force in shaping children's lives. Marital disruption is associated with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems and lowered academic achievement in children who have undergone the dissolution (Amato and Keith, 1991a; Hetherington, 1989; Wallerstein, 1988). Moore, et al. (1995), for example, reported that disruption of parents' marriage and living with a single parent are related to earlier onset of adolescent sexual behavior. These researchers speculate that this finding may be explained by lower family incomes, disadvantaged neighborhoods, less supervision and parental modeling, and more permissive attitudes in single parent families.
In their meta-analysis of the influence of divorce on children's adjustment, Amato and Keith (1991a) discovered that effect sizes were modest (mostly due to the large variability within any type of family structure), but the largest impact occurred in the arena of behavior problems. Children of divorce were twice as likely as children from intact families to display outcomes of dropping out of school, teenage pregnancy, teenage idleness, and truancy. Wells' and Rankin's (1991) meta-analysis focusing on the relationship of broken homes and delinquency, clarified this issue further. They found that broken homes were indeed more likely than intact homes to have delinquent adolescents. They found that the association between family structure and delinquency was er for more minor offenses rather than serious types of crime (see also Nye, 1958; Rankin, 1983; Wilkinson, 1980). They also could find no consistent evidence that step-parent families were more likely than single-parent families to include delinquents.
Although there is some debate as to the extent of repercussions for children of divorce (2), it is generally accepted that most children whose parents divorce eventually grow into relatively well-functioning adults (Hetherington and Clingempeel, 1992). There are, however, in some cases, consequences from parents' divorce that will result in adjustment problems even in adulthood. Adults from divorced families of origin have shown more behavior problems, lower feelings of well-being, lower socioeconomic attainment, higher marital instability and divorce, and more difficulties in workplace and family relationships (Amato and Keith, 1991b; Amato, Loomis, and Booth, 1995; Booth and Amato, 1994; Hetherington, 1999; McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994). On the other hand, some research finds no lasting substantive effects of divorce into adulthood. Lang and Zagorsky (2001), for instance, using 1979-1993 NLSY79 data, found that once background characteristics are controlled for, the influence of having an absent parent during childhood on adult economic attainment is not substantial. The exceptions to this rule are the significant effects that a father's presence has on adult sons' and daughters' cognitive performance and education and that a mother's presence has on these outcome variables for adult daughters.
Amato (1999) presents research consistent with the idea that the negative effects of divorce may last into adulthood, drawing on life course and risk/resiliency perspectives. A basic assumption of the life course approach is that the effects of one's family of origin are long-lasting--influencing an individual even after he or she leaves the fold (Elder, 1994). The risk and resiliency perspective holds that children's reactions to a stressful event such as parental divorce can be substantially shaped by the amount and the quality of resources in their lives. Some children are more resilient than others in the face of life's stressors. The idea that parental divorce can have long-term effects on individuals is consistent with both approaches.
Amato (1999) compared adults from various types of family structure on four measures of adjustment: socioeconomic, marital quality, relationship with parents, and subjective well-being. Analysis of education and employment measures from the National Survey of Families and Households showed that parental divorce decreased educational attainment for white men and women and black women by about one half year. The disparity in earnings for white men whose parents divorced compared to those whose parents remained married was about $4000 less every year; this difference was $2000 for white women. Education differences accounted for most of this financial disproportion. These results were consistent with other studies that have found children or young adults from broken homes more likely than individuals from intact families of origin to drop out of high school, to not attend college, to be unemployed, and to be at a comparative financial disadvantage (Keith and Finlay, 1988; Krein, 1986; McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994; McLeod, 1991; Wadsworth and McLean, 1986).
Amato (1999) used data from the Marital Instability Over the Life Course study which sampled married adults over a 12 year period and found that adults who were raised in happy intact families were the happiest with their own marriages. Individuals from unhappy intact and divorced families of origin reported the highest levels of conflict and instability in their own marriages. Previous research has shown that the likelihood for divorce is the lowest when neither partner comes from a divorced family of origin and the likelihood for divorce is highest when both spouses come from this type of family (Amato, 1996). In other findings, Amato (1999) found that having divorced parents compared to having an intact family of origin weakened the relationships with parents, especially with fathers. Same-sex bonds (father/son and mother/daughter) did not show this pattern if the divorce occurred during late adolescence. One final realm--well-being--also showed signs of being affected by divorce in one's family of origin. Happiness and satisfaction levels were lowest of all for adults from divorced families. Related research has found that, even after controlling for pre-divorce measures of behavioral and academic problems, parental divorce is related to psychological problems in adulthood (Chase-Lansdale, Cherlin, and Kiernan, 1995).
McLanahan's (1999) findings are consistent with Amato's. In her examination of labor market detachment (neither working nor in school) using several large, nationally representative surveys, she found that young men at ages 23 to 26 years old from single-parent families were about 1.5 times as likely to be out of school and out of work as men from intact homes. This same difference in detachment existed even when dropout rates are held constant. Blacks were especially sensitive to the effects of family structure on labor market success, with growing up in a single-parent home increasing idleness incidence rates by 40 percent for blacks and only 30 percent for whites.
McLanahan (1999) also examined the relationship between family structure and early family formation among women. The results showed that the proportion of young women who experienced teenage pregnancy was significantly higher for respondents coming from a non-intact family compared to women from two-parent households.
NLSY79 data revealed that white females from non-intact families compared to their counterparts had a 14 percentage point greater risk of becoming a mother during the teenage years. For white women from families with higher SES, the risk of teenage pregnancy was 5 times greater for those with family disruption; for blacks from higher SES families, the risk was twice as high. An interesting note to this research is that neither the amount of time a child spent in a non-intact family nor the timing of the marital dissolution had any effect on the long-term consequences studied. Remarriage also did not seem to make a difference in the child's likelihood of avoiding teenage parenthood.
McLanahan (1999) posits three main reasons that children growing up in a single-parent home suffer in comparison to those from intact homes: (1) fewer financial resources, (2) less available time and energy to monitor and care for children, and (3) reduced access to community resources that can act as an extra support to parents. Furstenberg and Cherlin (1991) also emphasized the importance of economic disadvantage in powering the negative effects of divorce on children. McLanahan (1999) suggested that economic instability is the culprit that accounts for half of the disadvantage that often accompanies being raised in a single-parent home. Parenting factors may be responsible for half the increased high school dropout rate among children from one-parent homes. Adjusting for parental resources did not make much of a difference in accounting for teenage birth risk, but it did entirely close the disparity between those from intact and single-parent families in the area of labor force detachment.
It is interesting to note that even though remarrying is likely to put intact families and reconstituted families in the same financial position, this benefit does not translate into equal footing for the children in other areas (Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1991; Hanson, McLanahan, and Thomson, 1996; Hetherington, 1993). McLanahan and Sandefur (1994) reported that often stepchildren living in blended families do not outperform children from single-parent families, and in some cases they even perform worse. The lack of a positive effect and sometimes even a harmful effect of remarriage on educational outcomes has been shown repeatedly in the literature (Boggess, 1998). Wojtkiewicz' (1993) found that length of time exposed to a stepfather was related to lowered probability of graduating from high school. Ginther and Pollack (2001) similarly found that, in general, children from stable blended families had shown less positive educational outcomes than children in intact families. Children from blended families had outcomes similar to children from single-parent families. These researchers also found that within stable blended families there is no significant difference between the performance of stepchildren and the biological children.
[Go To Contents]
Family socioeconomic status touches many aspects of an adolescent's life. The general idea that socioeconomic status has far-reaching influences can be seen in the sheer variety and number of studies in which it serves as a background factor. Socioeconomic status of family of origin can affect factors ranging from community or neighborhood characteristics to types of discipline used (Avenevoli, Sessa, and Steinberg, 1999).
The status attainment literature has focused on determining factors that impact achieving educational, occupational, and other socioeconomic success in youth and adulthood. Hill and Duncan (1987) found that parents' education, especially father's education, as a measure of socioeconomic status, plays an important part in children's educational attainment. However, Sewell and Shah (1967) provided evidence that even though the majority of lower class students did not show high levels of educational attainment, that some students managed to "make it." They also found that mother's education was a more important factor than father's education in predicting educational attainment for women from lower class origins.
More recently, Krohn, et al. (1997) found that being from a lower class family of origin was associated with precocious transitions. In their study, if the household was on welfare, under the poverty line, or if the household primary wage earner was unemployed, then the family was classified as lower class. For females, lower class status was related to dropping out of school, living independently early, and experiencing more precocious transitions. Lower class males were also more likely to drop out of school and have more precocious transitions. Later alcohol use was significantly negatively correlated with lower class for females.
Recent data from the youth module of the 1997 NHSDA reveal that household socioeconomic status as measured by family income is associated with adolescent substance use (2001, OAS). For adolescent past-year marijuana use, there does not appear to be much of an overall variation with household income. Examination of heavier marijuana use, though, shows a different pattern with socioeconomic status. Adolescents 12 to 17 years old from poorer households (incomes less than $20,000) were more likely than those from the wealthiest households (incomes $40,000 and greater) to have used marijuana at least 51 times in the past year (6.5 percent vs. 3.9 percent, respectively). Household income does not show an association with heavier alcohol use. It does, however, show a significant relationship with overall past-year alcohol use, with the higher an adolescent's family income, the higher the likelihood that an adolescent used alcohol. Consistent with this finding, Zucker and Harford (1983) found a positive relationship of teenage drinking with parental occupational prestige and education. The relationship between socioeconomic status and delinquency appears to work differently, with a negative correlation found between these two factors (see Hawkins, et al., 1992).
Jessor, et al. (1991) reported that socioeconomic variables related to a respondent's family of origin showed virtually no relationship to young adult problem behaviors. Some exceptions to this were the inverse relationship of mother's education with young adult women's past-month marijuana use in the College sample and the positive correlation of mother's education with men's past-month marijuana use and past 6-month intoxication in the High School sample. When young adult educational attainment was the dependent variable of interest, family socioeconomic measures showed significance more consistently. Father's education, father's occupational status, and family socioeconomic status were positively associated with young adult educational attainment in all samples except the College Study men. Mother's education was also found to have a positive correlation with young adult education in the two High School Study samples.
[Go To Contents]
A branch of research has developed around the issue of parental or familial alcoholism's effects upon children and adults (Russell, 1990). Research shows that children of alcoholics (COAs) are at risk for a plethora of negative outcomes, including early onset of alcohol and drug use and lowered academic achievement (Chassin, et al, 1993; Hill and Yuan, 1999; McGrath, Watson, and Chassin, 1999). Individuals with family members who abused alcohol were also more likely to show alcohol and hard drug abuse or dependence in adolescence (Kilpatrick, et al 2000). Perceived control and cognitive coping buffered adolescents' initiation of substance use from parents' alcoholism (Hussong and Chassin, 1997). Other research has shown that family cohesion is important in mitigating the relationship between stress that accompanies a parent's substance use disorder and adolescent substance use (Su, et al., 1997).
Adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) are still affected by this factor in terms of their close relationships. Having an alcoholic parent is associated with earlier marriages, increased marital problems, and greater likelihood of divorcing in adulthood (Dawson, Grant, and Harford, 1992; Goodwin, et al 1977; Parker and Harford, 1988).
The connection between parental or familial alcoholism and later alcohol-related problems is well established. Dawson, Harford, and Grant (1992), after adjusting for age, race, sex, and poverty, found that compared with respondents with a negative family history, the odds of alcohol dependence increased by 45 percent among persons with alcoholism only in 2nd or 3rd degree relatives (i.e., biological grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephew, or other blood relatives) and by 86 percent among those with alcoholism only in 1st degree relatives (i.e., biological parents, siblings, or children) (see also Grant, 1998). Effects of parental alcoholism on young adult substance use disorder and accelerated heavy alcohol use in adolescence is in part mediated by conduct problems (Chassin, et al 1999; Hussong, Curran, and Chassin, 1998). There is also some evidence that ACOAs are at increased risk for a drug use disorder (Gotham and Sher, 1996).
[Go To Contents]
1. Alcohol abuse is a chronic disease in which a person continues using alcohol despite problems caused or worsened by its use and in dangerous situations. Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism, is a chronic, progressive disease characterized by frequent use of excessive amounts of alcohol, increased tolerance, inability to cut down on use, and occurrence of withdrawal symptoms when a person attempts to give up alcohol use. Alcohol abuse and dependence are distinguished on the basis of the number and type of alcohol diagnostic criteria met as detailed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition, Revised (DSM-III-R; American Psychiatric Association, 1987).
2. See Twaite (1998) for a discussion of the Disaster Theory of Divorce versus the Challenge Theory of Divorce. The former perspective paints a fairly bleak picture of children's adjustment post-divorce regardless of circumstances. The Challenge approach posits that the effects of a divorce can be either negative or positive, depending on circumstances and perceptions following the divorce.
Top of Page | Contents
Main Page of Report | Contents of Report
Human Services Policy (HSP)
Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)