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Spence, Naomi J. & Brewster, Karin L. (2010). Adolescents’ Sexual Initiation: The Interaction of Race/Ethnicity and Immigrant Status. Population Research and Policy Review, 29(3), 339-362. PMCID: PMC3217234


This paper provides an in-depth examination of the joint effects of race/ethnicity and immigrant status on adolescents’ intercourse risk. We employ a sample of 4,535 females and 3,759 males from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS 88/94) who were followed for 6 years beginning in the eighth grade. We use discrete-time logistic regression models to estimate the associations of race/ethnicity and immigrant generational status with first intercourse hazard, and to evaluate the statistical interactions between race/ethnicity and immigrant status. Overall, Asian and Hispanic girls had lower and non-Hispanic Black girls had higher estimated risks relative to non-Hispanic White girls. Hispanic boys and White non-Hispanic boys had similar intercourse risks, but Black boys had higher and Asian boys lower relative risks. However, these patterns are contingent on immigrant status. Among girls, the protective effects of Asian or Hispanic identity are found only among second generation youth. Risk profiles for boys are more complex: being a third-plus generation Hispanic is associated with a higher risk while an Asian identity is associated with a lower risk only among first- and second-generation youth. These findings confirm the importance of accounting for the overlap between race/ethnicity and immigrant status in models of adolescent behavior. As the demographic diversity of the US population grows, researchers must include both race/ethnicity and immigrant status in their models of adolescent behavior.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Population Research and Policy Review


Spence, Naomi J.
Brewster, Karin L.