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Religion and Risky Health Behaviors among U.S. Adolescents and Adults

  • Jason Fletcher
  • Sanjeev Kumar

Recent studies analyzing the effects of religion on various economic, social, health and political outcomes have been largely associational. Although some attempts have been made to establish causation using instrument variable (IV) or difference-in-difference (DID) methods, the instruments and the spatial and temporal variations used in these studies suffer from the usual issues that threaten the use of these identification techniques--validity of exclusion restrictions, quality of counterfactuals in the presence of spatial assortative sorting of people, and concern about omitted variable bias in the absence of information on family level unobservables and child-specific investment by families. During the adolescent years, religious participation might be a matter of limited choice for many individuals, as it is often heavily reliant on parents and family background more generally. Moreover, the focus of most of the studies has been on religious rites and rituals i.e., religious participation or on the intensity of participation. Using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, this paper analyzes the effects of a broad set of measures of religiosity on substance use at different stages of the life course. In contrast to previous studies, we find positive effects of religion on reducing all addictive substance use during adolescence, but not in a consistent fashion during the later years for any other illicit drugs except for crystal meth and marijuana.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19225.

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Date of creation: Jul 2013
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Religion and Risky Health Behaviors among U.S. Adolescents and Adults , Jason Fletcher, Sanjeev Kumar. in Economics of Religion and Culture , Hungerman and Chen. 2014
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19225
Note: HE
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  1. Jennifer M. Mellor & Beth A. Freeborn, 2009. "Religious Participation and Risky Health Behaviors among Adolescents," Working Papers 86, Department of Economics, College of William and Mary.
  2. Laurence R. Iannaccone, 1998. "Introduction to the Economics of Religion," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(3), pages 1465-1495, September.
  3. Cutler, David M. & Lleras-Muney, Adriana, 2010. "Understanding differences in health behaviors by education," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 1-28, January.
  4. Thomas Dohmen & Armin Falk & David Huffman & Uwe Sunde, 2012. "The Intergenerational Transmission of Risk and Trust Attitudes," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 79(2), pages 645-677.
  5. Hungerman, Daniel M., 2014. "The effect of education on religion: Evidence from compulsory schooling laws," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 52-63.
  6. Guiso, Luigi & Sapienza, Paola & Zingales, Luigi, 2002. "People's Opium? Religion and Economic Attitudes," CEPR Discussion Papers 3588, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Burdette, Amy M. & Weeks, Janet & Hill, Terrence D. & Eberstein, Isaac W., 2012. "Maternal religious attendance and low birth weight," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(12), pages 1961-1967.
  8. Cutler, David M. & Lleras-Muney, Adriana, 2010. "Understanding Differences in Health Behaviors by Education," Scholarly Articles 5344195, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  9. Gabriella Conti & James J. Heckman, 2012. "The Developmental Approach to Child and Adult Health," NBER Working Papers 18664, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Laurence R. Iannaccone, 1998. "Corrigenda [Introduction to the Economics of Religion]," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(4), pages 1941-1941, December.
  11. Fernando Ferreira & Joseph Gyourko, 2007. "Do Political Parties Matter? Evidence from U.S. Cities," NBER Working Papers 13535, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Fletcher, Jason M., 2011. "The medium term schooling and health effects of low birth weight: Evidence from siblings," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 517-527, June.
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