Relatively little research has accrued examining risk propensity across racial and ethnic groups, especially across time and at the population level.
Using a margin for error framework to conceptualize risk variation among major racial and ethnic groups, we hypothesize that African American and Hispanic adolescents will be less likely to report engaging in dangerous risk taking acts compared to White adolescents.
This study examines public-use data collected on risk propensity and risky behaviors among adolescents 12–17 between 2002 and 2018 as part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
While we observed decreased trends in risk propensity, controlling for demographic factors, we see significantly greater odds of reporting “never” engaging in risk for fun among NH Black (AOR 2.01, 95% CI 1.85–2.18) and Hispanic youth (AOR 1.47, 95% CI 1.37–1.58) as compared to NH White youth. NH Black (AOR 0.74, 95% CI 0.61–0.89) and Hispanic (AOR 0.83, 95% CI 0.71–0.98) youth are also less likely than NH White youth to report “always” taking risks for fun. Moreover, the risk propensity-risky behaviors link was weaker among African American and Hispanic adolescents.
We find compelling evidence that African American and Hispanic adolescents are less likely to endorse deriving positive reinforcement from potentially dangerous risk taking acts compared to White adolescents. These findings suggest that African American and Hispanic youth may perceive less “margin for error” when navigating their environments.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
AbiNader MA, Salas-Wright CP, Vaughn MG, Oh S, Jackson DB (2019) Trends and correlates of youth violence-prevention program participation, 2002–2016. Am J Prev Med 56(5):680–688
Arnett JJ (2018) Getting better all the time: trends in risk behavior among American adolescents since 1990. Arch Sci Psychol 6(1):87
Bellair PE, McNulty TL (2005) Beyond the bell curve: community disadvantage and the explanation of black-white differences in adolescent violence. Criminology 43(4):1135–1168
Blum RW, Beuhring T, Shew ML, Bearinger LH, Sieving RE, Resnick MD (2000) The effects of race/ethnicity, income, and family structure on adolescent risk behaviors. Am J Public Health 90:1879–1884
Centers for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (2018) 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Public Use File Codebook. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014) Conducting trend analyses of YRBS data. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2015/2015_yrbs_conducting_trend_analyses.pdf. Retrieved 30 June 2018
Estrada-Martínez LM, Caldwell CH, Schulz AJ, Diez-Roux AV, Pedraza S (2013) Families, neighborhood socio-demographic factors, and violent behaviors among Latino, White, and Black adolescents. Youth Soc 45(2):221–242
Farrell AD, Sullivan TN, Kliewer W, Allison KW, Erwin EH, Meyer AL, Esposito L (2006) Peer and school problems in the lives of urban adolescents: frequency, difficulty, and relation to adjustment. J Sch Psychol 44(3):169–190
Finn JD, Servoss TJ (2015) Misbehavior, suspensions, and security measures in high school: racial/ethnic and gender differences. J Appl Res Child Inform Policy Child Risk 5(2):11
Flory K, Brown TL, Lynam DR, Miller JD, Leukefeld C, Clayton RR (2006) Developmental patterns of African American and Caucasian adolescents’ alcohol use. Cult Divers Ethn Minor Psychol 12:740–746
Gaston S (2019) Enforcing race: a neighborhood-level explanation of black–white differences in drug arrests. Crime Delinq 65(4):499–526
Harden KP, Tucker-Drob EM (2011) Individual differences in the development of sensation seeking and impulsivity during adolescence: further evidence for a dual systems model. Dev Psychol 47(3):739
Hecht ML, Marsiglia FF, Elek E, Wagstaff DA, Kulis S, Dustman P, Miller-Day M (2003) Culturally grounded substance use prevention: an evaluation of the keepin’it REAL curriculum. Prev Sci 4(4):233–248
Hidalgo B, Goodman M (2013) Multivariate or multivariable regression? Am J Public Health 103(1):39–40
Jarrett RL, Jefferson SR (2003) “A good mother got to fight for her kids”: maternal management strategies in a high-risk, African-American neighborhood. J Child Poverty 9(1):21–39
Johnson RM, Fairman B, Gilreath T, Xuan Z, Rothman EF, Parnham T, Furr-Holden CD (2015) Past 15-year trends in adolescent marijuana use: differences by race/ethnicity and sex. Drug Alcohol Depend 155:8–15
Kalesan B, Vyliparambil MA, Bogue E, Villarreal MD, Vasan S, Fagan J, Firearm Injury Research Group (2016) Race and ethnicity, neighborhood poverty and pediatric firearm hospitalizations in the United States. Ann Epidemiol 26(1):1–6
Letiecq BL, Koblinsky SA (2004) Parenting in violent neighborhoods: African American fathers share strategies for keeping children safe. J Fam Issues 25(6):715–734
Oh S, Vaughn MG, Salas-Wright CP, AbiNader MA, Sanchez M (2020) Driving under the influence of alcohol: findings from the NSDUH, 2002–2017. Addict Behav 108:106439
Oh S, Salas-Wright CP, Vaughn MG (2017) Trends in drug offers among adolescents in the United States, 2002–2014. Health Justice 5(1):6
Payne BK, Brown-Iannuzzi JL, Hannay JW (2017) Economic inequality increases risk taking. Proc Natl Acad Sci 114(18):4643–4648
Pedersen SL, Molina BS, Belendiuk KA, Donovan JE (2012) Racial differences in the development of impulsivity and sensation seeking from childhood into adolescence and their relation to alcohol use. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 36:1794–1802
Rennó Santos M, Testa A, Porter LC, Lynch JP (2019) The contribution of age structure to the international homicide decline. PLoS ONE 14(10):e0222996
Salas-Wright CP, Nelson E, Vaughn MG, Reingle Gonzalez JM, Córdova D (2017) Trends in fighting and violence among adolescents in the United States, 2002–2014. Am J Public Health 107(6):977–982
Salas-Wright CP, Oh S, Goings TC, Vaughn MG (2017) Trends in perceived access to marijuana among adolescents in the United States: 2002–2015. J Stud Alcohol Drugs 78(5):771–780
Salas-Wright CP, Vaughn MG (2016) The changing landscape of adolescent marijuana use risk. J Adolesc Health 59(3):246–247
Salas-Wright CP, Vaughn MG, Reingle Gonzalez JM (2016) Drug abuse and antisocial behavior: A biosocial life-course approach. Palgrave Macmillan, New York
Salas-Wright CP, Vaughn MG, Todic J, Córdova D, Perron BE (2015) Trends in the disapproval and use of marijuana among adolescents and young adults in the United States: 2002–2013. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse 41(5):392–404
Shulman EP, Smith AR, Silva K, Icenogle G, Duell N, Chein J, Steinberg L (2016) The dual systems model: review, reappraisal, and reaffirmation. Dev Cogn Neurosci 17:103–117
Steinberg L (2010) A dual systems model of adolescent risk-taking. Dev Psychobiol 52(3):216–224
Steinberg L (2014) Age of opportunity: lessons from the new science of adolescence. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston
Threlfall J, Seay K, Kohl P (2013) The parenting role of African American fathers in the context of urban poverty. J Child Poverty 19(1):45–61
Tillyer MS, Tillyer R (2016) Race, ethnicity, and adolescent violent victimization. J Youth Adolesc 45(7):1497–1511
Vaughn MG, AbiNader MA, Salas-Wright CP, Oh S, Holzer K (2018) Declining trends in drug dealing among adolescents in the United States. Addict Behav 84:106–109
Vaughn MG, Nelson EJ, Oh S, Salas-Wright CP, DeLisi M, Holzer KJ (2018) Abstention from drug use and delinquency increasing among youth in the United States, 2002–2014. Subst Use Misuse 53:1468–1481
Vaughn MG, Nelson EJ, Salas-Wright CP, DeLisi M, Qian Z (2016) Handgun carrying among White youth increasing in the United States: new evidence from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2002–2013. Prev Med 88:127–133
Vaughn MG, Salas-Wright CP, Cordova D, Nelson EJ, Jaegers L (2018) Racial and ethnic trends in illicit drug use and binge drinking among adolescent and young adult offenders in the United States. J Crim Justice 59:71–80
Vaughn MG, Salas-Wright CP, Oh S (2017) Trends in heroin access among adolescents in the United States, 2002–2014. Prev Med 99:67–68
Vaughn MG, Wallace J, Davis LE, Fernandes G, Howard MO (2008) Variations in mental health problems, substance use and delinquency between African-American and White juvenile offenders: Implications for reentry services. Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol 52:311–329
Wallace JM Jr, Bachman JG, O’Malley PM, Johnston LD, Schulenberg JE, Cooper SM (2002) Tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use: racial and ethnic differences among US high school seniors, 1976–2000. Public Health Rep 117(Suppl 1):S67
Wallace JM, Muroff JR (2002) Preventing substance abuse among African American children and youth: race differences in risk factor exposure and vulnerability. J Prim Prev 22(3):235–261
Zimring F (2006) The great American crime decline. Oxford University Press, New York
Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under Award Number K01AA026645. The research was also supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) under Award Number R25 DA030310. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NIAAA, NIDA, or the NIH.
Conflict of interest
The authors have no conflict of interest to report.
About this article
Cite this article
Vaughn, M.G., Salas-Wright, C.P., Alsolami, A.S. et al. Margin for error: examining racial and ethnic trends in adolescent risk propensity. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-021-02026-8
- Risk taking
- Alcohol and drugs
- Racial differences