(Source: Robert Rector and Kirk A. Johnson, “Teenage Sexual Abstinence and Academic Achievement, The Heritage Foundation,” )
October 27, 2005
Many health educators dismiss the idea of teaching sexual abstinence until marriage, thinking it leaves teens ignorant and ill prepared to make transitions to adulthood. However, a new study by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., finds just the reverse, documenting that teens who heed the abstinence message-relative to those who do not-are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to attend and graduate from college.
Looking at the rich data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which interviewed a cohort of 14,000 teens in 1994, 1995, and 2001, researchers Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson found consistent and robust correlations between teen virginity and several positive academic outcomes. Most important, by narrowing the comparison among teens to those with identical social background characteristics, the researchers were able to isolate the effects of teen virginity from the effects of socioeconomic differences that might also account for such outcomes.
Controlling for parental education, race, gender, family structure, religiosity, and family income, their multivariate logistic regressions confirmed teen abstinence as a “significant and independent predictor of academic success,” being associated with a 40 percent lower rate of high school expulsion, a 50 percent lower rate of dropping out of high school, a 70 percent increase in the probability of attending or graduating from college, and a 66 percent increase in college graduation.
These statistically significant correlations held firm even when girls who had given birth before 18 were excluded from the analysis, evidence that the academic differences were not due to the disruptive effects of non-marital pregnancy and childbearing. The associations also held in tests that controlled for the educational expectations of teens that were 16 and under at the time of the 1994 Add Health follow-up, evidence that abstinence contributes to higher academic outcomes independent of a teen’s desire or expectations to attend college.
While not claiming that teen virginity directly causes academic achievement, the researchers nonetheless theorize that virginity both reinforces and reflects the academic capacities and personality traits that contribute to academic success. “Teens who abstain [from sexual relations] will be subject to less emotional turmoil and fewer psychological distractions; this will enable them to better focus on schoolwork.” Furthermore, virgin teens “are likely to have greater future orientation, greater impulse control, greater perseverance, greater resistance to peer pressure, and more respect for parental and social values.”