Does early sexual debut reduce teenagers' participation in tertiary education? Evidence from the SHARE longitudinal study

Alison Parkes, Daniel Wight, Marion Henderson, Patrick West

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Negative effects of early sexual debut on academic outcomes can extend beyond secondary school, although concurrent changes in other psychosocial risk factors have not been investigated. Data from three waves of a longitudinal survey of Scottish teenagers were used to examine associations between early sexual debut (first heterosexual intercourse) and both expectations for (N= 5,061) and participation in (N= 2,130) tertiary education at college or university. Early debut was associated with reduced tertiary education, after adjusting for academic performance and wave 1 confounders relating to social background, attitudes and behaviours. Pregnancy/partner pregnancy did not explain all of this finding, as many sexually experienced teenagers opted out of tertiary education after leaving school early for other reasons. Changes in other psychosocial risk factors between waves 1 and 2 mediated much of the association found. Early sexual experience may predict disengagement from tertiary education, although further research is needed to explore causal pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)741-754
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Adolescence
Issue number5
Early online date7 Nov 2009
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2010


  • education
  • longitudinal
  • pregnancy
  • sexual debut
  • teenager

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