A teen’s economic background influences choices regarding sexual behavior and alcohol consumption.
New research suggests that youths from low-income backgrounds are more likely to begin having sex at younger ages, while teens from families with middle-class income may begin drinking earlier.
“Significant group differences indicated stronger associations between adolescent delinquency and each young adult outcome for youth from low-income compared to those from middle-income backgrounds,” writes W. Alex Mason of the Boys Town National Research Institute in Nebraska, and his colleagues.
Childhood delinquency has always been a controversial subject, and many have postulated different theories about what factors might contribute to its development. Clearly certain mental health issues may play a role, as well as substance abuse, family problems, and socioeconomic factors.
Mason and his colleagues used a study sample of 808 boys from different socioeconomic backgrounds, aged 10 to 24, to examine the factors involved in the development of delinquency in late childhood. The participants were asked to complete questionnaires about their involvement with alcohol, substance use, sexual activity, and delinquency. They were asked about both current activity, and about what they recalled during childhood and teen years. The researchers were particularly interested in crime, risky sexual behaviors, and substance or alcohol abuse. In addition the subjects gave information regarding their economic background.
Statistical modeling was used to measure the associations between income and behaviors. “Analyses further examined the influences of late childhood involvement in these problem behavior outcomes, with mediation through teen delinquency and alcohol use, and examined differences in the pathways for youth from low- compared to middle-income backgrounds,” explains Mason.
They found that children who grew up in middle-income households were 1.5 times more likely to report early alcohol use (by age 10) than those from low-income backgrounds.
Children who grew up in the households with the lower incomes were two times more likely to report sex onset by age 11, than those from a middle-income background. They were also more likely to report delinquency by age 10.
Although economic background had an effect on younger teens in terms of risks of alcohol use vs. early onset of sexual behavior, “adolescent delinquency also mediated the relation between early sex onset and crime.” Mason noted that “early alcohol use predicted a higher level of, and a faster rate of increase in, adolescent drinking, which predicted, in turn, young adult alcohol use disorders and risky sex.”
“Early intervention may help prevent the development of crime, alcohol use disorders, and risky sex behaviors, especially among disadvantaged youth,” writes Mason.
Mason’s results can be found in the online July 26 issue of The Journal of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry