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Peer Effects in UK Adolescent Substance Use: Never Mind the Classmates?


  • Duncan McVicar

    (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne)

  • Arnold Polanski

    (School of Economics, University of East Anglia)


This paper estimates peer influences on the alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use of a school based sample of UK 15 year olds. We present evidence of large, positive and statistically significant peer effects in all three behaviours when classmates are taken as the reference group. When friends are taken as the reference group, using self-reports of perceived friends’ substance use, we also find large, positive and statistically significant associations with own substance use. When both reference groups are considered simultaneously, the influence of classmates on own behaviour either disappears or is much reduced in magnitude, whereas the association between own and friends’ behaviours doesn’t change. The suggestion is that classmate behaviour is primarily relevant only inasmuch as it proxies for friends’ behaviour, with classmates that are not also friends having relatively little influence on adolescent substance use.

Suggested Citation

  • Duncan McVicar & Arnold Polanski, 2012. "Peer Effects in UK Adolescent Substance Use: Never Mind the Classmates?," Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series wp2012n08, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne.
  • Handle: RePEc:iae:iaewps:wp2012n08

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Peter Kooreman & Adriaan R. Soetevent, 2007. "A discrete-choice model with social interactions: with an application to high school teen behavior," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(3), pages 599-624.
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    Cited by:

    1. Mendolia, Silvia & Paloyo, Alfredo R. & Walker, Ian, 2016. "Heterogeneous effects of high school peers on educational outcomes," Ruhr Economic Papers 612, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
    2. John Moriarty & Duncan McVicar & Kathryn Higgins, 2012. "Peer Effects in Adolescent Cannabis Use: It's the Friends, Stupid," Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series wp2012n27, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne.
    3. Alfred Kechia Mukong, 2017. "Peer Networks and Tobacco Consumption in South Africa," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 85(3), pages 341-367, September.
    4. Moriarty, John & McVicar, Duncan & Higgins, Kathryn, 2016. "Cross-section and panel estimates of peer effects in early adolescent cannabis use: With a little help from my ‘friends once removed’," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 163(C), pages 37-44.

    More about this item


    Peer effects; reference groups; smoking; alcohol; cannabis; adolescents; friends;

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification


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