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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Neighborhood Norms and Substance Use Among Teens

  • Author(s): Musick, Kelly
  • Seltzer, Judith A.
  • Schwartz, Christine R
  • et al.

This paper uses new data from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey (L.A. FANS) to examine how neighborhood norms shape teenagers’ substance use. Specifically, it takes advantage of clustered data at the neighborhood level to relate adult neighbors’ attitudes and behavior with respect to smoking, drinking, and drugs, which we treat as norms, to teenagers’ own smoking, drinking, and drug use. We use hierarchical linear models to account for parents’ attitudes and behavior and other characteristics of individuals and families. We also investigate how the association between neighborhood norms and teen behavior depends on: (1) the strength of norms, as measured by consensus in neighbors’ attitudes and conformity in their behavior; (2) the willingness and ability of neighbors to enforce norms, for instance, by monitoring teens’ activities; and (3) the degree to which teens are exposed to their neighbors. We find little association between neighborhood norms and teen substance use, regardless of how we condition the relationship. We discuss possible theoretical and methodological explanations for this finding.

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