Effects of self-esteem and academic performance on adolescent decision-making: an examination of early sexual intercourse and illegal substance use

J Adolesc Health. 2010 Dec;47(6):582-90. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.04.009. Epub 2010 Jun 18.


Purpose: To determine whether higher self-esteem and higher academic performance among youth reduce the likelihood of early sexual intercourse and illegal substance use.

Methods: Using data from waves I-III of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, this study used multivariate logistic regression, stratified by gender and controlling for known covariates, to examine relationships between self-esteem and academic performance and youth decision-making, specifically self-reported initiation of sexual intercourse and use of illegal substances. Self-esteem was constructed as an ascending scale of 10 Likert-scaled survey items. Academic performance was assessed using the most recent grades from English, Math, Science, and History.

Results: Among virginal adolescents, higher self-esteem at baseline had no effect on sexual debut 1 year later. However, higher self-esteem at baseline among females corresponded with a significantly lower likelihood of illegal substance use 1 year later (OR, .96; p = .003). In terms of academic performance at baseline, girls averaging "A" grades as compared with girls averaging "C" grades or lower were significantly less likely to initiate sexual intercourse 1 year later (OR, .52; p = .004). Additionally among girls, being an "A" student or a "B" student was associated with lower odds of illegal substance use, compared with students who averaged "C" grades or lower (p < .01). Among young boys, self-esteem and academic performance were not significantly predictive of illegal substance use.

Conclusions: This study suggests that bolstering self-esteem and improving academic performance among young girls may have specific benefits in sexual decision-making and substance-related risk-taking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Coitus / psychology*
  • Decision Making
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychology, Adolescent
  • Self Concept*
  • Sexual Abstinence / psychology*
  • Social Identification*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States