Heterosexual adolescents are less likely to use contraceptives when their partners are of different backgrounds or social circles. It is unclear why risky behaviors are more common within these relationships, and characteristics associated with school‐discordant partners—that is, partners who do not attend the adolescent's school—are particularly understudied.
Characteristics of romantic relationships and contraceptive use were examined among 1,043 female and 961 male respondents in Waves 1 (1994–1995) and 2 (1996) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Generalized linear regression and structural equation models identified individual‐ and relationship‐level characteristics that were associated with school‐discordant relationships and contraceptive use.
For females, the likelihood of ever having used a condom with a partner was reduced when that partner had not attended her school at the start of the relationship (odds ratio, 0.5) or when he was two or more years older (0.6). Notably, however, having a school‐ or age‐discordant partner was not associated with ever having used hormonal or dual methods for females, or with any contraceptive measures for males. For females, lower emotional intimacy with school‐discordant partners was positively associated with ever having used condoms with such partners (1.2).
Characteristics of school‐discordant relationships are correlated with condom use in varying and sometimes countervailing ways. Future research examining the mechanisms linking school discordance to decreased condom use, particularly for females, would deepen understanding of the emotional and psychosocial processes involved in adolescents’ sexual and contraceptive behavior.
Kate Strully is associate professor, Department of Sociology, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany. David Kennedy is senior behavioral/social scientist, Behavioral and Policy Sciences Department, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA