The Long Term Impact of Adolescent Risky Behaviors and Family Environment. C. Does Parents' Education Affect the Pathways of Early Initiators?


We have addressed the question of whether adolescent family structure may influence the paths of early initiators and found that intact families are generally the best at helping adolescents avoid most negative consequences of risky behaviors. However, even in intact families, some adolescents will develop adulthood problems while others do not. In this section we go deeper into the family environment and consider another measure, the family's socioeconomic status, again represented by parents' education. Two adolescents from the same family type, both of whom initiate early into one or more risky behaviors, may face different consequences. One may end up with adulthood problems while the other doesn't. Within family types, what makes the difference? We seek to determine if parents' education plays a role in influencing the pathway for early initiators within a given family type.

In addition to limiting the sample to early initiators, we further restrict the analysis to sample members who lived in either of the two most common family types at age 14: two-biological parents and single mother households.23 To study the impact of parents' education, we estimate the same regressions as above. We estimate each set of regressions separately for the two family types. This allows us to delve down a layer within the family, examining whether parents' education matters for early initiators within these family types. We use the same definitions of early initiators and again do not estimate any behavior-outcome pairs that do not have significant differences across the age of initiation categories. The full set of regressions appears in Appendix E (two biological parent families) and Appendix F (single mother families). A summary table isolating the relationships for each parent's education precedes the full set of regression tables in each appendix.

Restricting the sample to two-parent families only, we find that higher levels of parents' education generally reduce the likelihood of a bad adult economic outcome among early initiators. Small cell sizes make the numbers bounce around a lot and statistical significance frequently is not achieved. However, the direction seems consistent. The pattern seems to also hold for the likelihood of being incarcerated, but virtually none of the parameter estimates are statistically significant. Cell sizes dramatically impair our ability to draw conclusions in the family formation domain. About the only result that is consistent is that families with either parent having completed college have children who are less likely to be unmarried with children at age 33.

As with the full sample, the connection between parents' education and the likelihood of an adult problem with alcohol or drugs is contradictory. In general, in intact families mothers' education reduces the likelihood of an adult alcohol problem and increases the likelihood of an adult drug problem while fathers' education has exactly the opposite effect in both cases. We are reluctant to place too much emphasis on these findings since virtually none of the parameter estimates is statistically significant. The most important thing to consider, though, is how this fits with our earlier findings. Intact families were seen not to be the best for minimizing the likelihood of an adult alcohol or drug problem. Also, higher levels of parents' education were not always associated with better adult health outcomes. Now we observe seemingly quirky results for the impacts of mothers' and fathers' education when examining early initiators within intact families exclusively. Clearly there are processes within these families that are not captured here that influence the pathways to adult alcohol and drug problems.

When we restrict the sample to those who lived in single mother households when they were age 14, we examine the impact of education including the mother's education only.24 Interestingly we see a pattern similar to the intact families. Greater mother's education for the most part reduces the likelihood of a poor economic outcome and has no clear effect on the probability of incarceration. As in intact families, the only adult family formation result that is clear is that college educated mothers are less likely to have offspring who are unmarried with children at age 33.

Once again, we also see that more education for the mother reduces the likelihood of an adult alcohol problem, but increases the likelihood of adult drug usage. It is interesting that this seemingly strange result holds for the case where we have limited the sample to those who lived in single mother households and we have included only the mother's educational attainment.

Section Summary

  • Relationships between parents' education and adult outcomes for early initiators are similar to those for the whole sample, even when restricting family type (at age 14) to either intact families or single mother families.
  • Higher levels of mothers' education are associated with less adult alcohol disorders, more adult drug usage, better economic outcomes, less incarceration, and lower likelihood of being unmarried with children at age 33 for early initiators regardless of family structure at age 14.
  • Higher levels of fathers' education is associated with more adult alcohol disorders, less adult drug use, better economic outcomes, less incarceration, and lower likelihood of being unmarried with children at age 33 for early initiators living in intact families at age 14.