• Journal Article

Public and private domains of religiosity and adolescent health risk behaviors: evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health

Citation

Nonnemaker, J., McNeely, C. A., & Blum, R. W. (2003). Public and private domains of religiosity and adolescent health risk behaviors: evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Social Science and Medicine, 57(11), 2049-2054.

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine the association of public and private domains of religiosity and adolescent health-related outcomes using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a nationally representative sample of American adolescents in grades 7-12. The public religiosity variable combines two items measuring frequency of attendance at religious services and frequency of participation in religious youth group activities. The private religiosity variable combines two items measuring frequency of prayer and importance of religion. Our results support previous evidence that religiosity is protective for a number of adolescent health-related outcomes. In general, both public and private religiosity was protective against cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana use. On closer examination it appeared that private religiosity was more protective against experimental substance use, while public religiosity had a larger association with regular use, and in particular with regular cigarette use. Both public and private religiosity was associated with a lower probability of having ever had sexual intercourse. Only public religiosity had a significant effect on effective birth control at first sexual intercourse and, for females, for having ever been pregnant. However, neither dimension of religiosity was associated with birth control use at first or most recent sex. Public religiosity was associated with lower emotional distress while private religiosity was not. Only private religiosity was significantly associated with a lower probability of having had suicidal thoughts or having attempted suicide. Both public and private religiosity was associated with a lower probability of having engaged in violence in the last year. Our results suggest that further work is warranted to explore the causal mechanisms by which religiosity is protective for adolescents. Needed is both theoretical work that identifies mechanisms that could explain the different patterns of empirical results and surveys that collect data specific to the hypothesized mechanisms