Mining the Add Health Data Set

On the heels of the release of the Add Health Wave 3 data set, Perspectives published a special issue in 2004 dedicated to studies based on Add Health data. Writing in the introduction, guest editor Michael Resnick described Add Health as “a gold mine of opportunity for understanding the determinants and trajectories of adolescent health and risky behavior.” The studies in the special issue covered a wide range of topics, including sexual victimization, STD acquisition, contraceptive use, and attitudes toward contraceptives and pregnancy.

Each study included in the issue either examined an old topic in a new way or presented national estimates for the first time. For example, the study by Lynne C. Fiscus and colleagues provided the first prevalence estimates of annual STD screening among adolescent females. Despite the 1993 CDC recommendation that all sexually experienced female adolescents get screened for chlamydia yearly, only 18% had done so. And the study from Dawn M. Upchurch and colleagues was among the first to offer a longitudinal assessment of adolescents’ STD risk using a nationally representative sample. This study was unique because in addition to examining individual-level determinants, it examined the associations between adolescents’ risk of STD acquisition and school, neighborhood and family characteristics, finding that multiple behavioral and social variables were associated with lifetime history of STDs. The studies on the first prevalence estimates of forced sex and revictimization among female adolescents, young adults’ perceptions of their STD risk and patterns of contraceptive use and consistency in teenagers’ most recent relationship have already been independently featured in [email protected] 

More than half of the studies focused on STD risk and acquisition, which may be an artifact of the tendency in earlier research to focus on “problem behaviors.” Today’s researchers are examining teenagers’ behaviors through a lens of healthy sexual development, and Add Health, now in Wave 5, continues to provide them with the rich data they need. 

Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Family Planning Perspectives may be accessed through Wiley Online Library (2003–) and JSTOR (1969–2011).

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine