Marijuana Use and High School Dropout

The Influence of Unobservables

Published In: Health Economics, v. 19, no. 11, Nov. 2010, p. 1281-1299

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2010

by Daniel F. McCaffrey, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, Bing Han, Phyllis L. Ellickson

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In this study, we reconsider the relationship between heavy and persistent marijuana use and high school dropout status. Using a unique prospective panel study of over 4500 7th grade students from South Dakota who are followed through high school, we developed propensity score weights to adjust for baseline differences found to exist before marijuana initiation occurs for most students (7th grade). We then used weighted logistic regression that incorporates these propensity score weights to examine the extent to which time-varying factors, including substance use, also influence the likelihood of dropping out of school. We found a positive association between marijuana use and dropping out (OR=5.6, RR=3.8), over half of which was explained by prior differences in observational characteristics and behaviors. The remaining association (OR=2.4, RR=1.7) became statistically insignificant when measures of cigarette smoking were included in the analysis. Because cigarette smoking is unlikely to seriously impair cognition, we interpret this result as evidence that the association between marijuana use and high school dropout is unlikely to be due to its adverse effects on cognition. We then explored which constructs drive this result, determining that they are time-varying parental and peer influences.

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