Teen Delinquency, Drug Use Affects Marriage Rate

A new study suggests that teenagers with a propensity for getting into trouble may get married earlier than their peers — with the exception of those who abuse drugs or alcohol.

Using survey data from more than 9,800 young U.S. adults, researchers found that those who'd been delinquent in high school — having run away, been arrested, gotten into fights or caused trouble at school — generally married at a younger age than their better-behaved peers.

In contrast, men and women who'd abused alcohol and drugs in high school — marijuana, in particular — were less likely to have married by their late-20s.

The reasons for the findings are unclear, but they do suggest that teenagers' behavioral issues have "far-reaching consequences" for marriage, according to researcher Dr. Sampson Lee Blair, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

"Most previous studies have focused on the relatively short-term effects of adolescent substance use and delinquency," Blair said in a news release from the university, "but here we find good evidence that, for both sexes, delinquent behavior is linked to an increase in the likelihood of marriage and a lower age at first marriage."

"On the other hand," he added, "adolescents with relatively high levels of abuse of alcohol and marijuana have a lower likelihood of marriage even by their late 20s."

Blair presented the findings at a recent meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society in Baltimore.

The results are based on a government survey of 5331 women and 4482 men ages 25 to 28 who had been followed since high school. Half of the women and 38 percent of the men had married by the final survey.

In general, Blair found, respondents who'd been in trouble as teenagers were more likely than their peers to have married. For example, 56 percent of women who'd gotten into physical fights as teens were married, versus 49 percent of other women.

On the other hand, the more often study participants had smoked marijuana as teens, the less likely they were to be married.

Overall, about 40 percent of women who had used marijuana were married, versus half of non-users. Among men, 30 percent of marijuana users had married, compared with 38 percent of non-users.

Other factors, like family income and race, influenced marriage rates as well, Blair found. However, even with those factors considered, teen delinquency and substance abuse, themselves, seemed to affect marital status.

According to Blair, substance abuse has been linked to personality traits — like impulsivity and thrill-seeking — that might make a person less likely to commit to a long-term relationship.

It's not clear why teen delinquency might be related to earlier marriage, as some past research has suggested that the opposite it true. One possibility, according to Blair, is that teenagers who have problems at home may see marriage as an escape.