Neighborhoods and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Adolescent Sexual Risk Behavior


Understanding the determinants of racial/ethnic disparities in adolescent sexual risk behavior is important given its links to the differential risk of teen pregnancy, childbearing, and sexually transmitted infections. This article tests a contextual model that emphasizes the concentration of neighborhood disadvantage in shaping racial/ethnic disparities in sexual risk behavior. We focus on two risk behaviors that are prevalent among Black and Hispanic youth: the initiation of sexual activity in adolescence and the number of sex partners. Using data from the 1997 National Longitudinal Study of Youth (N = 6,985; 48 % female; 57 % non-Hispanic White) evidence indicates that neighborhood disadvantage—measured by concentrated poverty, unemployment rates, and the proportion of female-headed households—partially explains Black and Hispanic disparities from Whites in the odds of adolescent sexual debut, although the prevalence of female-headed households in neighborhoods appears to be the main driver in this domain. Likewise, accounting for neighborhood disadvantage reduces the Black-White and Hispanic-White disparity in the number of sexual partners, although less so relative to sexual debut. We discuss theoretical and practical implications of these findings.

Publication Title

Journal of Youth and Adolescence