Religious Participation and Risky Health Behaviors among Adolescents
Jennifer M. Mellor
Beth A. Freeborn
Previous studies have shown that adolescent religious participation is negatively associated with risky health behaviors like cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, and illicit drug use. One explanation for these findings is that religion directly reduces risky behaviors because churches provide youths with moral guidance or with strong social networks that reinforce social norms. An alternative explanation is that both religious participation and risky health behaviors are driven by some common unobserved individual trait. We use data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and implement an instrumental variables approach to identify the effect of religious participation on smoking, binge drinking and marijuana use. Following Gruber (2005), we use a county-level measure of religious market density as an instrument. Religious market density has a strong positive association on adolescent religious participation, but not on secular measures of social capital. Upon accounting for unobserved heterogeneity, we find that religious participation continues to have a negative effect on illicit drug use.
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