Economists Analyze Nine High-Risk Youth Behaviors

Analyzing risky behavior among youth

There are many high-risk behaviors in which youth engage, such as smoking, drinking, sex and drugs, which have important implications for their present well-being and their prospects later in life. Yet, most traditional economists have paid relatively little attention to creating economic models of youth behavior.

In December 1999, the National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Mass., convened nine teams of leading economists to apply economic analysis to the study of nine high-risk youth behaviors.

Key Findings

  • The studies were collected in a book, Risky Behavior Among Youth, published in 2001. It contains studies of nine high-risk behaviors:
    • Smoking.
    • Driving.
    • Sex and pregnancy.
    • Suicide.
    • Marijuana use.
    • Crime.
    • Drinking.
    • Dropping out of school.
    • Misnutrition.

The book also contains an introduction by the principal investigator Jonathan Gruber which sets the stage for the analyses and distills their essential lessons:

Developing a comprehensive model of how youths make risky decisions is a daunting task. Economists and developmental psychologists have taken very different routes in approaching this task. Economists have used the standard, powerful tools of utility maximization to provide modeling precision and generate sharp, testable predications.

Funding

A $139,927 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) partially supported the project between December 1999 and December 2000. The Smith Richardson Foundation also provided funding.

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