The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Chaste—and College-Bound

Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King

High-school teachers work hard to forge new slogans that will inspire their students to make a college degree their goal. But in a study recently completed by scholars at Ohio State and the University of New Mexico, evidence emerges that no modern theory for motivating students is likely to  do as much to fix young people’s sights on college as does the ancient admonition to “Flee fornication” (I Cor. 6:18).

In an attempt to tease out the interrelationships between young people’s commitment to completing college, their peers’ commitment to the same goal, and their appetite for sexual risk-taking, the authors of the new study analyze data collected between 1994 and 1996 from a nationally representative sample of 6,255 seventh- through twelfth-grade students attending 116 schools across the country.

Careful analysis of the data reveals that “individuals who abstained from sex on average have higher expectations for college completion” than do peers who did not abstain. This gap in college expectations was especially high when the basis for comparison was the level of college expectations found among peers who engaged in non-romantic sexual intercourse. However, that gap remained significant even when the analysts took as the basis for comparison the higher level of college expectations found among peers who restricted their sexual activity to “romantic only intercourse.”

Through statistical scrutiny of the data, the researchers limn a correlation not only between students’ sexual abstinence and their own commitment to completing college but also between their sexual abstinence and their peers’ commitment to completing college. “We find,” write the researchers, “those who abstained from sexual intercourse [during the study period] have the highest values of peer anticipation of college completion.”

Not surprisingly, the data indicate that some family backgrounds are more likely than others to foster the sexual discipline that apparently sustains strong academic commitments. “Adolescents from single-parent households,” the researchers note, “engage in more sexual risk-taking than respondents from two-parent households.” This, of course, means that adolescents from two-parent households are significantly more likely to abstain from sex than are peers from single-parent households (p < 0.01).

The researchers also note that “religiosity and abstinence-pledge status are negatively associated with sexual risk taking.” Statistical analysis consequently identifies religious young people as significantly more likely to abstain from sex than their religiously indifferent peers (p < 0.01). Such analysis also demonstrates that if they have made an abstinence pledge (of the sort now encouraged by some Protestant denominations), young people are significantly more likely to abstain from sex than are peers who have made no such pledge (p < 0.05).

In outlining an agenda for future research, the authors of this new study remark, “Further insight into the development of risky sexual behavior may promote healthy outcomes among youth and young adults.” No doubt further insight would be a good thing. But Americans already have quite enough insight to recognize intact parental marriage and religious devotion as seedbeds of the continence that will safeguard young people’s loftiest academic aspirations. 

(Brian Soller and Dana L. Haynie, “Structuring the Future: Anticipated Life Events, Peer Networks, and Adolescent Sexual Behavior,” So-ciological Inquiry 83.4 [2013]: 10.1111/soin.1209. Web.)