Children of Single Parents More Likely to Drink, Smoke Pot

A high school senior who lives with two college-educated parents has a significantly lessened chance of drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana than a teen who lives with one parent, according to a University of Texas at Arlington study.  Teens living with their mother only have a 54% more likelihood of using alcohol and are 58% more likely to smoke if they live with their father only.

Eusebius Small, assistant professor in the UT Arlington School of Social Work, studied data from 14,268 teenagers to determine the impact of family structure and parental education on adolescents’ substance use.

He concluded that family structure and parental education had more of an influence on teens’ well-being than other factors like gender, age, or where teens lived.  Small found that the presence of both parents is an especially strong factor for African-American adolescents.  When both groups live with both parents, white teens are 69% more likely to engage in substance abuse than black teens.

Hispanic kids living with both parents are 74% more likely to use alcohol than their black peers who live with both parents.

“We know from previous research that early drinking and drug use is linked to social, economic, emotional and behavioral problems including violence, depression and precarious sexual activity,” said Small, whose work focuses on reducing incidents of sexually transmitted infections among adolescents. “Addressing these environmental concerns in concert with related individual problems could reduce substance use occurrences among our young people.”

The study, entitled “The Impact of Family and Parental Education on Adolescents’ Substance Use: A Study of US High School Seniors,” is published online in the journal Social Work in Public Health.  The team reviewed data from the ongoing Monitoring the Future study from the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan.  The data comes from 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students who were surveyed across the nation.

“Our study should re-emphasize the direction for practice and policy, for example, examining the elements in the family structure that are deemed protective and can enhance the well-being of children,” Small said.

Kathleen Lees writing for Science World Report says that certain genetic components should be considered as well.  Yes, happy families may increase a teens opportunity to make good decisions, but addictive behaviors can also be linked to other health and socioeconomic issues, or might even have genetic causes.

There are other reasons that having both parents in the home, and having them be college-educated, is a benefit.  Natalie Kitroeff of Bloomberg Businessweek write that a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reveals that college graduates earn consistently more than those who are not.  Specifically, they earn about 56% more than people with only high school diplomas.

It was also found that families that have two college-educated parents previously earned about $30,000 more per year than those without a college degree.  Now they earn $58,000 more.

The people most likely to get that leg up are those whose parents graduated from college. “When the return to education is high, children of better-educated parents are doubly advantaged—by their parent’s higher education and higher earnings—in attaining greater education while young and greater earnings in adulthood,” wrote David Autor, an MIT economist, in Science magazine this May.