Will daughters walk mom’s talk? The effects of maternal communication about sex on the sexual behavior of female adolescents
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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.
KeywordsMaternal sex talk Sexual intercourse Unsafe sex Casual sex
JEL ClassificationI13 J12
The authors thank Laura Argys, Karen Smith Conway, Jennifer Kohn, David Phillips, Lucie Schmidt and Yang Wang for helpful comments. All errors are our own. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website (http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth). No direct support was received from Grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.
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