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Risky Behavior Among Youths: An Economic Analysis

  • Jonathan Gruber

There are a host of potentially risky behaviors in which youth engage, which have important implications for both their well being as youth and their life prospects. The past decade has seen dramatic shifts in the intensity with which youths pursue these risky activities: for example, youth homicide fell by 40%; teen births decline by 20%; youth smoking rose by 33%; and marijuana use among youth virtually doubled. This paper, and the volume it introduces, explores the determinants and implications of risky behaviors by youths. I begin by reviewing perspectives on youth risk-taking from traditional rational-choice economics, developmental psychology, and behavioral economics. I then discuss both cross-sectional and time series evidence on risk-taking by youths, and how this compares to adults. I review the evidence on youth risk taking from the studies in this volume, and highlight the conclusions that (a) economic incentives and macroeconomic conditions are powerful predictors of risk taking by youths, (b) despite this, these factors are not very successful in predicting the dramatic time series swings we see in youth risk taking, and (c) risk taking by youths appears to have important implications for risky behaviors later in life. I also comment on the implications of these findings for policy, and for future economic research.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7781.

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Date of creation: Jul 2000
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Publication status: published as Jonathan Gruber, 2001. "Risky Behavior among Youths: An Economic Analysis," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number grub01-1, 6.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7781
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  1. Phillip B. Levine, 2000. "The Sexual Activity and Birth Control Use of American Teenagers," JCPR Working Papers 161, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  2. Gary S. Becker & Casey B. Mulligan, 1997. "The Endogenous Determination of Time Preference," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(3), pages 729-758.
  3. Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 2001. "Risky Behavior among Youths: Some Issues from Behavioral Economics," NBER Chapters, in: Risky Behavior among Youths: An Economic Analysis, pages 29-68 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Becker, Gary S & Murphy, Kevin M, 1988. "A Theory of Rational Addiction," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(4), pages 675-700, August.
  5. Jonathan Gruber & Botond Koszegi, 2000. "Is Addiction "Rational"? Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 7507, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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