Peer Context, Risky Sexual Behavior, and Acculturation

Document Type


Publication Date


Faculty Mentor

Courtenay Barrett


Latino adolescents are at disproportionate risk for reproductive health problems (CDC, 2007; 2009) and report higher rates of risky sexual behavior (CDC, 2010) compared with adolescents from other ethnic groups. Some of these risky behaviors increase as Latino youths acculturate into American society (Afable-Munsuz & Brindis, 2006). Segmented Assimilation Theory (Portes, Fernandez-Kelly & Haller, 2009) proposes that the acculturative trajectories of immigrant youth will depend on the social contexts to which they are exposed in the United States. Therefore, we hypothesized that the effects of acculturation on sexual behavior among Latino/a youths depends on the contexts in which acculturation occurs. Using data from Wave 2 (1996) and Wave 3 (2001-2002) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health; Harris et al., 2009), we used Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) to fit two models of sexual behavior in a sample of 3, 525 Latino adolescents. In each model, peer attitudes and peer socioeconomic status were entered as contextual predictors at the school-level. In the first model, peer attitudes predicted condom use at Wave 3 and moderated the relation between Wave 2 acculturation and Wave 3 condom use. In the second model, peer socioeconomic status moderated the relation between acculturation at Wave 2 and self-reported STIs at Wave 3. Acculturation did not emerge as a significant predictor in either model. Our results suggest that structural and attitudinal dimensions of peer context uniquely contribute to the sexual behavior of Latino/a youth. Further, peer context may explain some of the covariation between acculturation and risky sexual behavior in this population. Our findings contribute an understanding of the ecology of sexual behavior among Latino adolescents and highlight directions for school policy, school-based interventions, and further research.

This document is currently not available here.