May 9, 2019

Mothers’ social norms influence youth outcomes

In a Journal of Child and Family Studies article, researchers proposed that social norms and social connections across parents, friends, and schools on substance use and depression would have a greater association when both parties were of the same sex. For example, the social norms of mothers may have a stronger influence on substance use outcomes for their daughters as compared to their sons. This research expands previous efforts to understand adolescent health by looking at sex-specific constructs.

To test this hypothesis, the authors utilized multiple data sources which are made possible through the unique study design of Add Health. In-Home Interviews during Wave I and II provided youth respondent variables on substance use, depression symptoms, and parental and school connectedness. During Wave I, youth respondents were asked to identify their friends, allowing the creation of peer network data used to construct friend social norm variables. Parent variables of substance use and depression symptoms came from the parent questionnaire, also completed at Wave I. Finally, In-School Questionnaires were administered to more than 90,000 students across the sampled schools, allowing the current study to use a larger sample size to better represent school social norms.

Results from the study suggest that social connections between fathers and sons serve as a protective factor for mental health, whereas social norms of mothers, measured by unhappiness, had greater association with daughters’ depression. Additionally, mothers’ alcohol use, but not fathers’ alcohol use, were linked with increased drinking for both daughters and sons. Similar to this finding, a pattern emerged from the data suggesting that social norms from mothers and female schoolmates have a greater influence on youth behaviors.  The authors emphasize that future research should continue to understand how differentiating social norms by sex impacts adolescent health.

You can read the study and the rest of the findings here.


Caitlin McPerran Lombardi – University of Connecticut

Rebekah Levine Coley, Alicia Doyle, Lynch, & James R. Mahlik – Boston College

Jacqueline Sims – Boston University