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Melvin Stephens, Estimating Program Benefits

John E. Schulenberg photo

Education and Alcohol Use in Adolescence and Young Adulthood

a PSC Research Project

Investigator:   John E. Schulenberg

Drinking among high school and college students has long been a major public health concern in the U.S. As a key dimension of the connection between education and health that has fascinated social and behavioral scientists for years, this link between secondary/postsecondary education and alcohol use is theoretically important. Focusing as it does on institutional settings that historically have been viewed as amenable to policy intervention, this link also points to ways that that such theoretical activity can be applied. Although the potential impact of educational experiences on youth drinking has been studied frequently, it is not well-understood in many ways that have implications for informing intervention. Following the ?developmental? spirit of the R21 mechanism, therefore, this project draws on extant data to look into insufficiently known aspects of the education-drinking link and, in the process, support future primary data collections that focus on the most important aspects of the education-drinking link while addressing current data limitations. First, the specific dimensions of high school academic statuses and settings that matter to adolescent drinking, as well as the mechanisms underlying these associations, need to be better assessed and identified. This project draws on a unique data set?the integration of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a nationally representative study of health behavior in the early life course, and the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement study (AHAA), which adds rich school transcript and textbook data to Add Health. This integrated data set allows the study of drinking to be informed by important innovations in educational theory and measurement, including more accurate renderings of adolescents? positions in the academic hierarchies of their schools, the characteristics of their fellow students that they take classes with throughout school, and the cognitive skills (e.g., critical analysis) that they develop through coursework and can draw on in health decision-making. Second, the extent to which the education-drinking link varies across stages of the life course will be considered by drawing on postsecondary AHAA data, the hypothesis being that the importance of the academic and social settings of colleges to the drinking of young adults will depend on their academic and social histories as adolescents in high school. Third, drawing on the genetic samples and DNA data of Add Health, this project will assess the degree to which both latent and specific genetic influences are confounded with the education-drinking link and whether they condition/trigger the effects of educational experiences on drinking in adolescence and young adulthood. The investigatory team for this project includes sociologists and clinical/developmental psychologists who have experience in research on drinking, education, or both, including working with Add Health/AHAA and using advanced statistical techniques and genetically informed designs. The goal is to explore fresh approaches to old questions about the education-drinking link in a cost-effective strategy that allows future, larger-scale data collections to be more effectively designed.

Funding Period: 04/05/2011 to 03/31/2014

Country of Focus: USA

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