The Effect of Sexual Abstinence on Educational Attainment

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University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center

Teaching abstinence in schools has sometimes been justified on the grounds that abstaining from sex yields important emotional and psychological benefits to teens, which, in turn, increases their ability to accumulate “capital,” such as higher education. Using data on females from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, this study attempts to measure the degree to which unobservable factors affect the link between delaying first intercourse and educational attainment.

The results suggest that girls who abstain from intercourse until they are at least 18 increase their likelihood of graduating from high school by more than 17 percentage points. One-third of this effect was explained by the avoidance of teen pregnancy. Controlling for pregnancy, mental health factors and academic effort explained a little more than 50 percent of the effect. The authors say the findings suggest that abstinence may provide an educational benefit that “safer sex” does not. The study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with funding from 17 other agencies. (303) 556-3348,