Cover: Sexual Debut in Early Adolescence and Individual, School, and Neighborhood Social Capital

Sexual Debut in Early Adolescence and Individual, School, and Neighborhood Social Capital

Published in: Journal of Adolescent Health (2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2024.04.007

Posted on Jun 12, 2024

by Camila Cribb Fabersunne, Carly Milliren, Mark A. Schuster, Marc N. Elliott, Susan Tortolero Emery, Paula Cuccaro, Susan L. Davies, Tracy K. Richmond


Sexual debut in early adolescence is associated with poor health outcomes in adulthood. We examined the associations of social capital within families, schools, and neighborhoods with early sexual debut.


Using data from the Healthy Passages cohort, a longitudinal multilevel study of adolescents, we performed a series of cross-classified multilevel logistic regression models to examine (1) the relative contribution of schools and neighborhoods to the variance and (2) the association of markers of social cohesion/social capital in families, schools, and neighborhoods with sexual debut by 10th grade.


There were 4,001 youth participants nested in 115 schools and 751 neighborhoods, with a high degree of cross-classification (1,340 unique combinations of school and neighborhoods). In models adjusting for individual demographics, neighborhoods contributed more to the variance (log odds U [95% confidence interval {CI}] [intra class correlation {ICC}%]) in sexual debut than schools: Uneighborhoods = 0.11 (0.02, 0.23) [3.2%] versus Uschools = 0.07 (0.01, 0.16) [2%]. Restriction of dating and family cohesion, markers of family social capital, were associated with reduced odds of sexual debut by 10th grade (odds ratio = 0.45 95% CI: 0.41-0.49 and 0.93, 95% CI: 0.86, 1.00). Neighborhood cohesion and education level were associated with early debut. Although reduced, there remained significant, unexplained variance in both the school and neighborhood level in the fully adjusted model (Uschool = 0.08 [0.01, 0.17] [2.3%], Uneighborhood = 0.08 [0.02, 0.17] [2.2%]).


Markers of social capital at the family and neighborhood levels were associated with sexual debut by 10th grade. Developers of public health programs aiming to delay sexual debut should consider family-focused and neighborhood-focused interventions.

Research conducted by

This report is part of the RAND external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.