CitationWheeler, Stephanie B. (2010). Effects of self-esteem and academic performance on adolescent decision-making: An examination of early sexual intercourse and illegal substance use. Journal of Adolescent Health. vol. 47 (6) pp. 582-590
To determine whether higher self-esteem and higher academic performance among youth reduce the likelihood of early sexual intercourse and illegal substance use.
Using data from waves I–III of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, this study used multivariate logistic regression, stratified by gender and controlling for known covariates, to examine relationships between self-esteem and academic performance and youth decision-making, specifically self-reported initiation of sexual intercourse and use of illegal substances. Self-esteem was constructed as an ascending scale of 10 Likert-scaled survey items. Academic performance was assessed using the most recent grades from English, Math, Science, and History.
Among virginal adolescents, higher self-esteem at baseline had no effect on sexual debut 1 year later. However, higher self-esteem at baseline among females corresponded with a significantly lower likelihood of illegal substance use 1 year later (OR, .96; p = .003). In terms of academic performance at baseline, girls averaging “A” grades as compared with girls averaging “C” grades or lower were significantly less likely to initiate sexual intercourse 1 year later (OR, .52; p = .004). Additionally among girls, being an “A” student or a “B” student was associated with lower odds of illegal substance use, compared with students who averaged “C” grades or lower (p < .01). Among young boys, self-esteem and academic performance were not significantly predictive of illegal substance use.
This study suggests that bolstering self-esteem and improving academic performance among young girls may have specific benefits in sexual decision-making and substance-related risk-taking.