The Effect of Parental Involvement Laws on Youth Suicide

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

There is strong evidence that parental involvement laws, which require a parent's notification or consent before a minor can obtain an abortion, reduce pregnancies, abortions, and gonorrhea infections (Klick and Stratmann 2008; Levine 2003). This evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that parental involvement laws represent an important increase in the expected cost of having unprotected sexual intercourse, and raises the possibility that their implementation could help minors avoid the potentially acute psychological trauma associated with unprotected sex, which may lead to an unwanted pregnancy or being infected with a sexually transmitted disease.

This study explores the relationship between parental involvement laws and suicides among 15- through 17-year-old females. Despite the fact that restricting the access of minors to abortion services is often promoted on the grounds that it will protect their emotional health (Quinn 2000), there have been no previous attempts to estimate the relationship between parental involvement laws and what has been called "the ultimate expression of despair," nor has there been an exploration of the relationship between parental involvement laws and alternative measures of psychological well-being. (1)

Using state-level data for the years 1987-2003, we find that the adoption of a parental involvement law is associated with an 11%-21% reduction in the number of 15- through 17-year-old females who commit suicide. There is little evidence of a similar relationship among older females, who are not covered by parental involvement laws. Moreover, we find that the adoption of a parental involvement law is unrelated to the number of young males who commit suicide, a result that is consistent with the hypothesis that unprotected sex imposes a greater psychological burden on female adolescents than on their male counterparts.

II. BACKGROUND

As of July 2009, 34 states had instituted and were enforcing a parental involvement law. Another seven states had passed a parental involvement law but could not enforce it as the result of a court order. Most parental involvement laws require the notification, or consent of, one parent; three states require that both parents be notified or give their consent, and six states allow the notification or consent of other adult relatives like a grandparent. (2)

Parental involvement laws can be thought of as increasing the expected cost of having sex, and, in theory, their adoption should result in a reduction in the number of minors who are sexually active and an increase in contraceptive use conditional on sexual activity (Levine 2003). Evidence of the relationship between parental involvement laws and a variety of outcomes is provided by Levine (2003) and Klick and Stratmann (2008). Levine used state-level data from 1985 to 1996, a period when many parental involvement laws came into effect. He found that the adoption of a parental involvement law was associated with a 15%-20% reduction in the abortion rate of 15- through 17-year-olds, and a 4%-9% reduction in their pregnancy rate. Turning to microdata from the National Survey of Family Growth, Levine (2003) estimated the effect of parental involvement laws on sexual activity and contraceptive use. The results, although not sufficiently precise to be definitive, suggested that the reduction in the pregnancy rate of 15- through 17-year-olds could be attributed to more consistent use of contraception.

Klick and Stratmann (2008) used state-level data from 1981 to 1998 to explore the effect of parental involvement laws on teen gonorrhea rates. These authors argued that gonorrhea rates can be thought of as a proxy for risky sex (i.e., sex without a condom). They found that the adoption of a parental involvement law was associated with a 20% reduction in the gonorrhea rate among Hispanic females under the age of 20, and a 12% reduction among white females under the age of 20. …