Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Racial Differences in Sexual and Fertility Attitudes in an Urban Setting

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Racial Differences in Sexual and Fertility Attitudes in an Urban Setting

Article excerpt

Using data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (neighborhood N = 77; individual N = 951), we consider the extent to which African American youth maintain sexual and fertility-related norms that support early sexual activity and childbearing and examine the robustness of racial differences in sexual attitudes to controls for neighborhood, family, and individual characteristics. At a minimum, neighborhood economic disadvantage accounts for 26% of the baseline increased likelihood of holding attitudes that encourage early sexual activity among African American youth when compared with Whites. Neighborhood-, family-, and individual-level factors account for 67% of the race difference in sexual attitudes. Implications for contextual and race-based theories of sexual and fertility norms are discussed.

Key Words: adolescent sexual attitudes, multilevel models, neighborhood effects, racial differences.

Adolescent sexual activity has declined in recent years (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994), yet racial differences in sexual behaviors persist. African American boys and girls initiate sexual activity earlier than White or Latino adolescents (Abma, Chandra, Mosher, Peterson, & Piccinino, 1997; Brewster, 1994b; Ku, Sonenstein, & Pleck, 1993; Upchurch, Aneshensel, Sucoff, & Levy-Storms, 1999). Accompanying racial differences in sexual behavior are substantial differences in attitudes toward sexual activity during adolescence. Evidence suggests that African American adolescents and young adults hold attitudes more favorable to nonmarital intercourse and childbearing than adolescents and young adults of other races (Klassen, Williams, & Levitt, 1989; Smith, 1994; St. John & Rowe, 1990; Zabin, Hirsch, Smith, & Hardy, 1984), with potentially important causal implications for the prevalence of sexual risk behaviors and early fertility (Furstenberg, Morgan, Moore, & Peterson, 1987; South & Baumer, 2000; Trent & Crowder, 1997).

Extant research into sexual attitudes and associated racial differences has largely focused on their causal and mediating role. South and Baumer (2000), for instance, found that neighborhood economic disadvantage explained a substantial proportion of the racial difference in nonmarital pregnancy. In turn, attitudes toward teenage conception mediated part of the link between neighborhood disadvantage and nonmarital pregnancy, suggesting that racial differences in sexual attitudes are a potentially important consequence of differences in community structural disadvantage by race. To date, however, the range of attitudes considered in existing research has been largely limited to attitudes toward fertility, rather than the panoply of attitudes and expectations that may form an adolescent's worldview regarding appropriate sexual activity (South & Baumer; Trent & Crowder, 1997).

We suggest that the structural and spatial conditions of African American life contribute substantially to persistent racial differences in attitudes toward sexual behavior. Specifically, Wilson (1996) argues that dramatic changes in the level of concentrated poverty and other forms of structural disadvantage during the late 20th century resulted in the spatial and social isolation of African American residents of inner cities. Among the profound negative consequences of living amid high levels of poverty and joblessness at the neighborhood level, Wilson argues, is the dissemination of "ghetto-related" attitudes and behavior formed in response to the structural conditions of disadvantage. In this view, the greater prevalence of attitudes encouraging early sexual activity among African American youth is a function of neighborhood-based disadvantage rather than conditions inherently and inseparably connected to race.

Below, we elaborate and test this structural explanation for racial differences in sexual attitudes. Specifically, we use data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods to examine (a) the magnitude of racial differences in norms regarding the timing of sexual activity during adolescence, (b) the extent to which neighborhood structural disadvantage accounts for racial differences in sexual attitudes, and (c) the role of family- and individual-level factors in explaining both residual racial differences in, and neighborhood disadvantage effects on, adolescent sexual attitudes. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.