An Economic Analysis of Risky Behavior among Youths

NBER Reporter, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

An Economic Analysis of Risky Behavior among Youths


The NBER's Program on Children, which is directed by Jonathan Gruber of NBER and MIT, convened researchers on December 10 and 11 to discuss "Risky Behavior among Youths." The following papers were presented at the two-day session:

Jonathan Gruber and Jonathan Zinman, MIT, "Youth Smoking in the United States: Evidence and Implications"

Discussant: Donald Kenkel, Cornell University

Thomas Dee, Swarthmore College, and William N. Evans, NBER and University of Maryland, "Teens and Traffic Safety"

Discussant: James M. Poterba, NBER and MIT

Phillip Levine, NBER and Wellesley College, "The Sexual Activity and Birth Control Use of American Teenagers"

Discussant: Douglas O. Staiger, NBER and Dartmouth College

Philip J. Cook and Michael J. Moore, NBER and Duke University, "Environment and Persistence in Youthful Drinking Patterns"

Discussant: John Mullahy, NBER and University of Wisconsin

David M. Cutler and Edward L. Glaeser, NBER and Harvard University; and Karen Norberg, Boston Medical Center, "Suicide"

Discussant: Sendhill Mullainathan, NBER and MIT

Steven D. Levitt, NBER and University of Chicago, and Lance Lochner, University of Rochester, "The Determinants of Juvenile Crimes"

Discussant: Richard B. Freeman, NBER and Harvard University

Rosalie L. Pacula, NBER and Rand; Michael Grossman, NBER and City University of New York Graduate School; Frank J. Chaloupka, NBER and University of Illinois at Chicago; Matthew C. Farrelly, Research Triangle Institute; and Lloyd D. Johnston and Patrick M. O'Malley, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, "Marijuana and Youth"

Discussant: John DiNardo, NBER and University of California, Irvine

Discussant: Sarah McLanahan, Princeton University

Janet Currie, NBER and University of California, Los Angeles, and Jay Bhattacharya, Rand, "Youths at Nutritional Risk: Determinants and Consequences"

Ted O'Donoghue, Cornell University, and Matthew Rabin, University of California, Berkeley, "Risky Behavior among Youths: Some Issues from Behavioral Economics"

The rate of teen smoking rose by one-third in the 1990s. Cruber and Zinman explore four aspects of the decision by youths to smoke. They find that smoking participation is not simply concentrated among the most disadvantaged youth; indeed, increasingly over time youth smoking is taking place among white, suburban youth who have college-educated parents and good grades. The authors also show that neither changes in demographic characteristics nor new attitudes toward smoking can explain the striking increase in smoking rates in the 1990s. Price is a powerful determinant of smoking for high school seniors, though. Analysis of data for the 1991-7 period suggests that the drop in cigarette prices in the early 1990s can explain 30 percent of the subsequent upward smoking trend. However, price is not important for younger teens, although restrictions on access to cigarette purchases may lower the quantity that younger teens smoke. Finally, the authors demonstrate an important link between smoking as a youth and smoking later in life. This suggests that policies that stop youth from smoking can have long-lasting effects, and raises potential concerns about the long-run implications of the current rise in youth smoking.

Discussant: David Laibson, NBER and Harvard University

Traffic accidents are the leading cause of deaths among young adults, but teen traffic safety has improved considerably in recent years. Between 1979 and 1997, the teen traffic fatality rate has fallen by almost 25 percent, much more than among older drivers. According to Dee and Evans, these numbers actually understate the true improvements in safety, because teen driving has increased considerably over this period. Nearly all of the drop in the fatality rate can be explained by a large reduction in drunk driving among teens, they find. …

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