The Long Term Impact of Adolescent Risky Behaviors and Family Environment. A. Distributions

08/01/2001

Nearly 14 percent of adults suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence as measured around the age of 30 while about 11 percent are using drugs at that age. The prevalence rate of past-year alcohol use disorder is comparable to that (14 percent) found by Harford and Grant (1994) using 1989 NLSY79 data. Both past-year alcohol use disorder and recent drug use are associated more with males than females and are inversely related to educational attainment. Whites have the highest rates of alcohol problems, blacks the lowest. Hispanics use drugs the least at age 30.

By the age of 33, 3.7 percent of adults have spent some time in jail, primarily males who have a rate of about 6.5 percent. Blacks are the most likely to have been in jail at nearly 9 percent, with Hispanics second at 5.8 percent. Going to jail is inversely associated with educational attainment.

Approximately one-quarter of the adults were in poverty between ages 25-29 and about the same fraction were on welfare between ages 21-33. Poverty and welfare prevalence is higher for females than males and again inversely associated with educational attainment. Blacks are more likely than Hispanics, who, in turn, are more likely than whites to have been in poverty or on welfare. Similarly, employment outcomes are typically best for males, whites, and more educated individuals.13

More than three-quarters of thirty-three year olds have been married (either currently or in the past) and about two-thirds have had children. While on average 6.4 percent have never married but have children at that age, the rate for blacks is nearly 26 percent. Although marriage is not very different among educational groups (a little higher for high school dropouts), having children is much less prevalent as education increases. About one-fifth of high school dropouts have not had children by age 33 compared with about one-quarter of high school graduates, and over two-fifths of those who have had some college education. Since marriage and fertility are not complete for everyone at age 33, this comparison reflects both delayed childbearing and childlessness among more educated people. Some of this difference will probably erode as the sample continues to age.

It should be noted that the category "never married, with children" is a subset of all non-marital births. Since we measure family status at age 33, those who may have had a non-marital birth, but married before age 33, will not be in this category. Although the percentage who at age 33 had a child but had never been married is only 6.4 percent, the percentage of those whose first birth preceded their first marriage is 19.3 percent.14

Table 6. Weighted Percent/Means of Adult Outcomes by Sex, Race/Ethnicity, and Educational Attainment

Adult Outcomes

Sample Size All Sex Race/Ethnicity Educational Attainment
Male Female Non-black non-Hispanic Black Hispanic High School Dropouts High School Graduates Some college and up

Health

Percent alcohol abuse or dependence ~ age 30

9986 13.8 19.31 8.07 14.26 11.54 12.92 20.40 15.07 11.32

Percent drug use in the past month ~ age 30

8803 11.1 13.94 8.18 11.26 11.81 7.60 14.89 12.31 9.27

Incarceration

Percent ever being in jail ages 18-33 9986 3.7 6.46 0.77 2.56 8.84 5.80 11.11 4.56 1.37

Economic

Percent ever in poverty, ages 25-29

9986 23.5 20.24 26.85 18.91 43.84 34.80 52.80 26.16 15.22

Years in poverty, ages 25-29

9430 0.511 0.388 0.638 0.383 1.11 0.792 1.329 0.591 0.275

Percent ever on welfare, ages 21-33

9986 25.0 19.68 30.52 20.51 45.97 33.92 55.10 30.41 13.92

Years on welfare, ages 21-33

9986 1.084 0.615 1.570 0.798 2.44 1.615 2.997 1.291 0.516

Percent time employed-end of school to age 33

9801 0.909 0.913 0.904 0.928 0.812 0.885 0.802 0.893 0.944

Age achieved steady job since leaving school

8467 24.97 24.82 25.13 24.79 25.85 25.39 24.97 24.098 25.71
Family Formation
Percent in marital and fertility status at 33:

Never married without children

9144 15.3 19.41 10.96 15.19 16.64 13.24 10.94 12.68 18.40

Never married with children

9144 6.4 6.22 6.54 2.71 25.93 8.78 13.60 8.12 3.43

Married without children

9144 11.9 13.25 10.45 13.27 5.79 8.03 5.16 7.91 16.70

Married with children

9144 43.6 41.60 45.73 44.97 33.88 48.40 40.56 44.55 43.40

Married but divorced without children

9144 5.2 5.23 5.17 5.81 2.65 3.28 3.99 4.89 5.71

Married but divorced with children

9144 17.7 14.29 21.15 18.05 15.11 18.27 15.75 21.85 12.36

By measuring marriage and fertility status at age 33, we are implicitly considering a pre-marital birth that is later followed by a marriage to be a transition comparable to those who had their children after marriage. We selected this measure to be consistent with our goal to look at long-term outcomes.

Table 7 shows the relationship between the age of initiation into risky behaviors and adult outcomes. A clear relationship is seen between each adolescent risky behavior and each adult outcome. The earlier one engages in any given risky behavior or the more delinquent acts committed, the greater prevalence of bad adult outcomes. For both health outcomes and for spending time in jail, the relationship is perfectly consistent for all five adolescent risky behaviors. For example, the rates of adult drug use are 17.88 percent, 14. 19 percent, 7.62 percent, and 3.01 percent for initiation between ages 11-15, 16-17, 18-19, and after 19, respectively.

For economic outcomes the relationship generally holds though there are some anomalies. In particular, those who report not initiating alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine use by age 19 do not necessarily have the best outcomes; nor is the number of delinquent acts perfectly connected with bad adult outcomes in all cases. In fact, for the outcome, "age at which obtained a steady job", those who commit more crimes find a steady job sooner. The notion of adolescent risky behavior leading to precocious transitions into adult roles may account for part of this result. For example, Newcomb and Bentler (1988) found that adolescents who used substances were more likely to enter the workforce early and thus had higher incomes as young adults, albeit they also showed more job instability. In our study, adolescents who initiated alcohol early showed a slight tendency toward this precocious transition pattern on the same employment outcome, however, later cocaine and sex initiation both were associated with earlier maintenance of a stable job.

Excluding those who have not initiated by age 19, we nearly always see later initiation associated with better adult outcomes. For example, 29.86 percent of those who initiate into alcohol between ages 11-15 spend time on welfare between ages 21-33 compared with 24.04 percent of those who initiate at ages 16-17 and 20.87 percent of those who initiate at ages 18-19. Similar welfare participation rates exist for age of marijuana initiation at 31.37 percent, 26.41 percent, and 20.39 percent, respectively.

Certain relationships stand out in the adult family formation outcomes. The later one initiates a risky behavior (or the fewer delinquent acts one commits), the more likely one will be married with children at age 33 and the least likely one will have been married with children but divorced at age 33. Not surprisingly, early sex initiation is associated with never being married with a child (13.12 percent) and least associated with never being married without children (12.01 percent).

Section Summary

  • Adult alcohol disorders and drug usage is more prevalent among males, whites, and those with less education.
  • Males, blacks, and less educated individuals are the most likely to spend time in jail.
  • Poverty and welfare receipt are more prevalent among females, blacks, and those with less education.
  • Adult employment outcomes are best for males, whites, and those with more education.
  • Those with more education are less likely to have children by age 33.
  • Earlier initiation into adolescent risky behaviors or committing more delinquent acts is associated with having more bad adult outcomes.
Table 7. Adult Outcomes by Adolescent Risky Behaviors

Adolescent Risky behaviors

Adult Outcomes
Health Percent ever been in jail ages 18- 33
Percent alcohol abuse or dependence ~ age 30 Percent drug use in the past month ~ age 30

Age of Alcohol Initiation

11-15

22.94 16.68 6.40

16-17

16.39 13.15 3.31

18-19

9.38 8.44 2.91

not by age 19

3.24 3.51 2.17

Age of Marijuana Initiation

11-15

20.30 21.10 6.68

16-17

17.27 13.30 3.60

18-19

17.11 12.65 3.49

not by age 19

7.47 3.81 2.04

Age of Cocaine Initiation

11-15

28.66 26.89 21.97

16-17

25.87 25.49 9.47

18-19

23.14 24.84 6.72

not by age 19

12.08 8.78 2.78

Age of Sex Initiation

11-15

19.51 17.88 10.09

16-17

16.01 14.19 3.08

18-19

11.60 7.62 0.93

not by age 19

6.48 3.01 0.82

Number of times committed crimes/delinquencies in 1980

9+

25.31 19.28 9.49

3-8

17.77 15.19 3.75

1-2

13.15 10.20 3.29

0

6.71 5.45 1.07
Adult Outcomes by Adolescent Risky Behaviors

Adolescent Risky Behaviors

Adult Outcomes
Economic
Percent ever in poverty, ages 25-29 Years in poverty, ages 25-29 Percent ever on welfare, ages 21-33 Number of Years on welfare, ages 21-33 Percent time Employed from end of schooling to age 33 Age achieved steady job since leaving school

Age of Alcohol Initiation

11-15

25.71 0.536 29.86 1.251 0.903 24.984

16-17

21.60 0.462 24.04 1.017 0.913 24.693

18-19

21.13 0.454 20.87 0.909 0.918 25.025

not by age 19

28.55 0.701 28.35 1.352 0.893 25.292

Age of Marijuana Initiation

11-15

27.37 0.562 31.37 1.286 0.899 24.929

16-17

22.02 0.473 26.41 1.086 0.913 24.896

18-19

19.38 0.411 20.39 0.851 0.922 24.880

not by age 19

23.22 0.529 22.01 1.033 0.908 25.040

Age of Cocaine Initiation

11-15

45.69 0.921 46.07 1.899 0.855 25.589

16-17

31.60 0.657 36.41 1.418 0.888 24.686

18-19

22.66 0.459 25.44 0.988 0.922 24.724

not by age 19

22.71 0.499 23.94 1.057 0.910 24.994

Age of Sex Initiation

11-15

33.89 0.771 38.06 1.771 0.867 25.195

16-17

25.23 0.544 29.29 1.288 0.904 24.902

18-19

18.73 0.399 19.40 0.799 0.926 24.802

not by age 19

15.56 0.314 10.51 0.360 0.944 24.874

Number of times committed crimes/delinquencies in 1980

9+

27.12 0.557 27.45 1.113 0.891 24.721

3-8

22.38 0.506 26.42 1.188 0.907 24.888

1-2

25.96 0.559 27.27 1.241 0.908 24.924

0

20.04 0.435 20.74 0.874 0.920 24.961
Adult Outcomes by Adolescent Risky Behaviors

Adolescent Risky Behaviors

Adult Outcomes
Family Formation: Marital and Fertility Status at age 33 (in percent)
Never married without children Never married with children Married without children Married with children Married but divorced without children Married but divorced with children

Age of Alcohol Initiation

11-15

14.92 6.06 10.00 40.49 6.61 21.93

16-17

15.01 6.54 12.31 43.43 5.31 17.39

18-19

15.27 5.90 12.93 44.86 5.12 15.92

not by age 19

16.74 7.14 11.52 46.06 3.08 15.46

Age of Marijuana Initiation

11-15

14.91 7.48 11.29 38.02 6.16 22.14

16-17

16.01 6.16 11.92 42.24 4.82 18.85

18-19

14.79 5.10 12.12 44.97 6.75 16.26

not by age 19

15.22 6.13 12.12 46.98 4.51 15.04

Age of Cocaine Initiation

11-15

12.54 9.66 8.40 37.56 8.96 22.87

16-17

18.40 5.79 12.30 28.32 7.55 27.64

18-19

19.10 6.85 12.30 38.61 6.37 16.77

not by age 19

14.79 6.28 11.85 45.02 4.94 17.11

Age of Sex Initiation

11-15

12.01 13.12 8.17 36.61 5.48 24.62

16-17

12.68 6.62 10.04 42.80 5.80 22.05

18-19

14.94 4.11 12.25 48.26 5.42 15.02

not by age 19

23.57 1.55 18.34 46.99 3.38 6.18

Number of times committed crimes/delinquencies in 1980

9+

17.61 8.78 10.73 35.98 5.99 20.91

3-8

14.47 6.83 10.74 42.55 6.11 19.31

1-2

15.84 6.74 11.95 42.68 4.99 17.81

0

14.40 4.39 13.20 48.15 4.60 15.27