Review of Economics of the Household

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 613-639

Will daughters walk mom’s talk? The effects of maternal communication about sex on the sexual behavior of female adolescents

  • Susan L. AverettAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, Lafayette College Email author 
  • , Sarah M. EstelleAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, Management and Accounting, Hope College

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Numerous social marketing campaigns exhort parents to talk to their children about sexual abstinence, pregnancy risk, and sexually transmitted disease prevention. The effectiveness of these conversations is difficult to ascertain if parents are more likely to broach discussions related to sexual activity with adolescents who have greater propensities to engage in these risky behaviors. Our baseline empirical results indicate that female adolescents whose mothers communicate more about sex are more likely to have sexual intercourse, practice unsafe sex, and engage in casual sex. However, once we control for the adolescent’s environment and peers through the use of school fixed effects and for the daughter’s own propensity to engage in such behaviors through a rich set of adolescent-specific covariates, the effect of a mother’s talk on her daughter’s behavior is reduced dramatically indicating that mother’s talk is endogenous to the daughter’s sexual behavior. Models employing sister fixed effects to control for family-level unobservables, although imprecisely estimated, confirm this finding.


Maternal sex talk Sexual intercourse Unsafe sex Casual sex

JEL Classification

I13 J12