The Long Term Impact of Adolescent Risky Behaviors and Family Environment. a. Adult Outcomes


The NLSY79 offers a wide array of outcomes we can study. We define ten adult outcomes of interest and categorize them into four major domains. The outcome domains and the measures in each domain are:


  1. A measure of past-year alcohol abuse or dependence around age 30 7, defined according to the DSM III-R 8. Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence measure different problem behaviors. We combine them to capture either type of alcohol use disorder.
  2. Whether used drugs (marijuana or cocaine) in the past month around age 30. 9 While simply having used marijuana or cocaine in the past month is not an indication of a drug problem per se, most adults do not use these drugs routinely. We specifically chose not to capture drug use in the past year, a common measure, in order to reduce the likelihood of capturing occasional recreational use.


  1. Ever under the poverty line between ages 25-29. Data limitations restricted the highest age we could consider to 29. We purposely cut off the bottom age to prevent college students from appearing to be in poverty (see Appendix A).
  2. The number of years in poverty between the ages of 25-29. This variable distinguishes those who may have temporarily, for any number of reasons, fallen below the poverty line from those who are more regularly in poverty.
  3. Ever on welfare (AFDC/TANF or food stamps) between ages 21-33. As an alternative to the poverty measure, we capture welfare receipt. The data allow us to look over a wider range of ages than for poverty.
  4. The number of years on welfare between ages 21-33. This variable distinguishes transitory welfare receipt from longer term dependence.
  5. The percent of employable time spent employed between the end of formal schooling and age 33. This variable captures attachment to the labor force. In order not to "penalize" women for time spent out of the labor force for childbearing, we calculate the time spent employed as a percent of time in the labor force. We identify the end of formal schooling before starting the count.
  6. The age at which achieved at least 2 years working for a single employer since leaving formal schooling. Unlike general labor force attachment, this measure captures how long it took, since leaving formal schooling, to hold a "steady" job. There is not a standard measure of labor market success commonly used, but these two measures are consistent with the literature (Pergamit 1995).

Family Formation

We create a single outcome comprised of six combinations of marriage and fertility outcomes measured at age 33. These are:

  1. never married without children,
  2. never married with children,
  3. currently married without children,
  4. currently married with children,
  5. previously married but now divorced without children, and
  6. previously married but now divorced with children.


Whether ever been in jail by age 33. This variable is based on the location of the interview (respondents in the NLSY79 are followed anywhere, even into institutions). Only incarcerations as an adult are counted. Since some jail episodes would have occurred between interviews, this outcome is underestimated. However, no national data set measures the lifetime prevalence of serving time in jail; the NLSY79 provides an opportunity not found elsewhere (Freeman 1996).