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J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2015 Jan;76(1):68-79.

Drinking behaviors and life course socioeconomic status during the transition from adolescence to adulthood among Whites and Blacks.

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Department of Community Health Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Fielding School of Public Health, Los Angeles, California.
Department of Pediatrics, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, California, Department of Health Policy & Management, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, Los Angeles, California, RAND Health, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California, Children's Discovery and Innovations Institute, Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA, Los Angeles, California.
UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, California.
Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute, Emeryville, California.



This study sought to determine how socioeconomic status (SES) changes during the transition from adolescence into adulthood, and to understand the effects of SES on drinking behaviors in early adulthood among U.S. Whites and Blacks.


Secondary data analysis was conducted using three waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), a school-based sample of adolescents (Grades 7-12) followed through adulthood (age range: 25-31 years). Through latent class analysis, SES was operationalized as economic (i.e., income, home ownership) and human capital (i.e., education, occupation). Drinking behavior was categorized into no past-year use, current drinking without weekly heavy episodic drinking (HED), and weekly HED. Models were stratified by race: Whites (n = 5,248) and Blacks (n = 1,875).


For Whites, four economic capital groups (persistently low, upward, downward, and persistently high) and five human capital groups (persistently low, upward with work, upward with school, downward with work, and persistently high) were found. Blacks had roughly similar SES groups as Whites but with lower economic and human capital levels across all groups and without downward groups in either domain. Among both Whites and Blacks, lower economic and human capital groups reported higher abstinence. Persistently low Blacks, however, reported higher HED, whereas persistently low Whites did not. Moreover, economically upward Whites reported lower HED, whereas upwardly mobile Blacks did not.


Racial disparities were evident by economic and human capital during the transition into adulthood. Although abstinence profiles were similar for Whites and Blacks, both persistently low and upward trajectory groups signified differential HED risks. Future research should examine the mechanisms by which SES trajectories affect drinking behaviors.

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