Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Residential Mobility and the Onset of Adolescent Sexual Activity

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Residential Mobility and the Onset of Adolescent Sexual Activity

Article excerpt

Data from almost 5,000 adolescent respondents to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) are used to examine the mechanisms that transmit the facilitative effect of residential mobility on the timing of the transition to first premarital sexual intercourse. Adolescents who have recently moved are approximately one third more likely than non-mobile adolescents to experience first premarital intercourse between the first two waves of Add Health. We find that much of the difference between adolescent movers and stayers in the onset of sexual activity is attributable to the greater propensity for delinquency and the weaker academic performance among members of movers' school-based friendship networks. Adolescents' own delinquent behavior and academic performance also help to mediate the association between residential mobility and the transition to first intercourse.

Key Words: adolescence, migration, peers, residential mobility, sexual intercourse.

A multidisciplinary body of research shows that frequent residential mobility during childhood can have adverse consequences for adolescent functioning and development. Recent studies have reported significant effects of residential moves on an array of adolescent behaviors, including diminished academic performance (Pribesh & Downey, 1999), high rates of school dropout (Teachman, Paasch, & Carver, 1996), drug and alcohol abuse (Hoffman & Johnson, 1998), and other emotional and behavioral problems (Tucker, Marx, & Long, 1998). Research also shows that changing schools-even making normal school transitions within the same district (e.g., from junior high school to high school)-is often associated with reduced academic performance, social competence, and self-esteem (Gutman & Midgley, 2000). A particularly intriguing finding from this line of research is that frequent residential mobility also increases the likelihood that adolescents will engage in premarital sex (Stack, 1994), have multiple sex partners (Baumer & South, 2001), and ultimately face a higher risk of premarital pregnancy and childbearing (Sucoff & Upchurch, 1998). This facilitating influence of residential mobility on adolescent sexual activity is moderately counterintuitive, inasmuch as adolescent sexual intercourse frequently evolves from more longstanding romantic relationships (Bearman & Bruckner, 2001), and because recent movers are probably less likely than more established community residents to have developed the opposite-gender friendships that might lead to romantic involvement.

Despite this apparently widespread effect of residential mobility on adolescent problem behavior, very few studies have attempted to identify the mechanisms that transmit these effects. As a result, we have little understanding of why frequent geographic moves adversely influence adolescent development in general and adolescent sexual activity in particular. In this analysis, we examine the potential of four broad categories of explanatory factors-individual risk behaviors, parent-child relationship factors, psychological well-being, and peer social networks-to account for differences between residentially mobile and nonmobile youth in the timing of the transition to first intercourse. We draw on the first and second waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (hereafter Add Health) and, in particular, we exploit its rich data on adolescents' social networks.

THEORY AND HYPOTHESES

Theories describing the effect of residential mobility on adolescent sexual behavior can be categorized into four broad explanatory rubrics: individual risk behaviors, parent-child relationship factors, psychological well-being, and peer social networks. We describe each of these perspectives in turn. Figure 1 presents the conceptual model guiding our study.

Individual Risk Behaviors

One class of reasons for why residential mobility increases the risk of early sexual activity is that moving increases the frequency of other behaviors that place adolescents at heightened risk for early intercourse. …

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.