A multilevel investigation of the influence of family and school level factors on age of sexual initiation: a focus on sex differences


White, Candace N. (2013). A multilevel investigation of the influence of family and school level factors on age of sexual initiation: a focus on sex differences.


Background and Purpose: Early sexual initiation is associated with unwanted pregnancy, depression, and other health risks, yet sexual intercourse is occurring at earlier ages than in past decades and teen pregnancy rates in the U.S are the highest in the Western world. Using bioecological, resilience, and relational theory, the primary purpose of the current study is to extend previous research that shows association of particular individual, family, and contextual characteristics with age of sexual initiation (ASI). Previous findings are expanded upon by examining school level factors and using appropriate statistical modeling techniques for adolescents clustered within schools; by exploring the mechanisms through which putative risk and protective factors work (i.e., whether school level variables influence the relationship between previously identified risk and protective factors); and examining the sex differences in particular predictors of ASI.

Methods: Data from Waves I and IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health were analyzed using hierarchical linear modeling, a statistical approach that accounts for the nested structure of students within schools, and resulting collinearity of the individual and group measures.

Results: Results support hypotheses that both family and school level factors influence age of initiation for girls and boys, and that school mean parental education attainment moderates the influence of individual level factors on age of initiation. Results also show that there are more family and school level factors that predict age of initiation for girls (father-child relationship quality, sexual abuse, and parental monitoring) than for boys, and that perception of peer approval of sexual activity is a primary predictor of age of initiation for boys.

Implications: Implications for social work policy and practice are discussed, and future research is proposed. Findings support the need for policy changes and prevention interventions that include partnerships of adolescents, parents, and schools; and that address each of the predictors of early sexual activity (e.g., low paternal involvement, family and peer approval of early sex, and school context).



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Book Title

Social Welfare


White, Candace N.

Year Published


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University at Albany, State University of New York

City of Publication

New York

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