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J Adolesc Health. 2010 Oct;47(4):399-406. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.02.010. Epub 2010 Apr 28.

Neighborhood poverty, aspirations and expectations, and initiation of sex.

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School of Social Work and Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712-0358, USA.



Cross-sectional research has demonstrated associations between neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics and adolescents' initiation of heterosexual intercourse. Prospective designs are needed to move toward causal inference, and to identify mediating and moderating influences to inform policies and programs.


Among 5,838 nonsexually active participants in wave I (1994-1995) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, multilevel logistic regression analyses were used to predict initiation of sex by wave II (1996); models were stratified by gender and age group (11-14 and 15-17 yr). Predictors measured at wave I included census tract-level (neighborhood) poverty concentration, family-level income, parental education, race/ethnicity, and family structure. Adolescent college aspirations and life expectations were tested as possible mediators or moderators of the neighborhood poverty-sexual initiation association.


Neighborhood poverty concentration predicted older (15-17 yr) girls' and boys' sexual initiation, after considering individual-level covariates. However, adolescent college aspirations and life expectations were not found to mediate the prediction relationship. Moderating effects were identified for girls (college aspirations) and boys (positive life expectations) in high-poverty neighborhoods, paradoxically reflecting increased risk.


In this longitudinal study, moderating effects generally considered protective against sexual initiation were not protective or were harmful for adolescents living in high-poverty neighborhoods. Subsequent research to understand how to reduce the health risks of living in poor neighborhoods must examine an even wider range of variables and/or use different methodologies.

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