Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 2000. SD 1.8 Low-Risk Teen Cumulative Risk Index (10)

01/01/2000

Statistics often show rates of individual problem behaviors among adolescents, such as drug or alcohol use, school dropout, or early sexual activity. Yet youth engaged in one problem behavior are often engaged in others as well; their risk of immediate and long-term harm increases as the number of risky behaviors increases.11

The Low-Risk Teen Cumulative Risk Index is designed to identify the degree to which adolescents avoid a set of key problem behaviors simultaneously. This measure is created from 1995 youth-report data for five behaviors, where a youth is defined as having no risks if he or she:

  • Has not been suspended or expelled from school,
  • Has never had sexual intercourse,
  • Has never used illegal drugs (including marijuana, cocaine, inhalants, heroin, PCP,
    ecstasy, amphetamines, LSD, mushrooms, and pills),
  • Has never drunk alcohol unsupervised by adults, and
  • Has never smoked cigarettes regularly (at least once a day for 30 days).

Differences by Age. The proportion of young people who report avoiding all of these risk behaviors decreases with age (see Figure SD 1.8). By age 15 (by the 15th birthday), slightly more than half of responding young people (53 percent) have avoided all five risk behaviors, and 32 percent have experienced two or more risks. By age 17 (by the 17th birthday), an age at which most young people are still in high school, the proportion with no risks drops to 29 percent, and nearly half (45 percent) have now experienced two or more risk behaviors. Once youth reach their 18th birthday, only 22 percent report having engaged in no risk behaviors, while 48 percent report two or more such behaviors. Table SD 1.8 presents additional data on the percentage who report only one, and two or more, risk behaviors.

No Risk Behaviors by Gender, Family Structure, and Family Income. Across the adolescent years, more girls than boys report being free of any of the five risk behaviors. Similarly, children from two-parent families are more likely than children in single-mother families to avoid risky behaviors. Family income is another mitigating factor, with children in mid- to high-income families somewhat more likely than others to report that they avoid risk behaviors (see Table SD 1.8).

 

10 This measure uses different source data than a similar risk index presented in previous editions of this publication and should not be compared.
11 Moore, K.A., & Glei, D.A. 1994. Taking the Plunge: An Examination of Positive Youth Development. Journal of Adolescent Research 10 (11): 15-40.

 

Figure SD 1.8 Percentage of youth by their 12th through 18th birthdays in the United States with no risks a on cumulative risk measure, by age b and gender: 1995

a Risks are drawn from youth reports of selected behaviors in the 1995 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The behaviors examined for this cumulative index are suspension or expulsion from school, engaging in sexual intercourse, use of illegal drugs, unsupervised consumption of alcohol, and regular smoking of tobacco cigarettes. A status of “no risks” indicates that a youth reported involvement in none of the five tracked behaviors for each of the age periods specified.
b Age breaks for this indicator represent percentages of youth who have engaged (or not engaged) in the specified behaviors by the indicated birthdays.
Source: The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health Wave 1, 1995, tabulations by Child Trends.

 

Table SD 1.8 Percentage of youth by their 12th through 18th birthdays in the United States who have engaged in selected riska behaviors, by age,b gender, family structure, and family income: 1995

  By age 12 By age 13 By age 14 By age 15 By age 16 By age 17 By age 18
All Respondents
   No risks 87 79 66 53 40 29 22
  Only one risk 3 5 10 15 21 26 30
  Two or more risks 10 16 24 32 39 45 48
Respondents with no risks
Gender  
  Male 84 75 62 49 37 27 21
  Female 92 84 71 57 44 32 23
Family Structurec  
  Two parents 91 85 73 61 48 36 28
  Single-mother 84 73 58 43 32 23 16
  Other 82 72 57 42 31 20 15
Family Income  
  $15,000 and under 85 76 63 48 37 27 20
  $15,001-$35,000 85 76 62 52 39 28 22
  $35,001-$50,000 90 82 70 57 43 31 26
  $50,001 and over 92 85 72 58 45 33 23

a Risks are drawn from youth reports of selected behaviors in the 1995 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The behaviors examined for this cumulative index are suspension or expulsion from school, engaging in sexual intercourse, use of illegal drugs, unsupervised consumption of alcohol, and regular smoking of tobacco cigarettes. A status of “no risks” indicates that a youth reported involvement in none of the five tracked behaviors for each of the age periods specified.
b Age breaks for this indicator represent percentages of youth who have engaged (or not engaged) in the specified behaviors by the indicated birthdays.
c “Two parents” includes biological and adoptive parents only. The “other” category includes all family types that are not households with two biological or adoptive parents from birth, or female single-parent households. Stepfamilies, single-father families, and children living with their grandparents are included as “other” families in Table SD 1.8.
Source: The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health Wave 1, 1995, tabulations by Child Trends.

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