How Norms Shape Teenagers' Health Behaviors

Kelly Musick, University of Southern California
Judith A. Seltzer, University of California, Los Angeles
Christine R. Schwartz, University of California, Los Angeles

This paper uses new data from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey (L.A. FANS) to examine how norms shape teenagers' health-related behaviors. Specifically, it uses multilevel models to describe the effects of adult neighbors' beliefs about smoking, drinking, and marijuana use, which we treat as norms, on these behaviors among teens, taking account of neighbors' behavior, parents' attitudes and behavior, and other family-level characteristics. We investigate how the association between neighborhood-level attitudes and teenagers' behavior depends on three factors that are likely to condition the association between adult neighbors' attitudes and teens' behavior: consistency in the signal neighbors provide about appropriate behavior, the ability of neighbors to enforce norms, and the degree to which teens are exposed to their neighbors. Finally, we examine the sensitivity of our results to how neighborhoods are defined, and we consider alternate reference groups who may affect teenagers' behavior.

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Presented in Session 95: Community and Neighborhood Influences on Children and Youth