Does the Economy Affect Teenage Substance Use?

Published in: Health Economics, v. 16, no. 1, Jan. 2007, p. 19-36

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2007

by Jeremy Arkes

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This research examines how teenage drug and alcohol use responds to changes in the economy. In contrast to the recent literature confirming pro-cyclical alcohol use among adults, this research offers strong evidence that a weaker economy leads to greater teenage marijuana and hard-drug use and some evidence that a weaker economy also leads to higher teenage alcohol use. The findings are based on logistic models with state and year fixed effects, using teenagers from the NLSY-1997. The evidence also indicates that teenagers are more likely to sell drugs in weaker economies. This suggests one mechanism for counter-cyclical drug use - that access to illicit drugs is easier when the economy is weaker. These results also suggest that the strengthening economy in the 1990s mitigated what would otherwise have been much larger increases in teenage drug use.

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