Adolescents' perceptions of the costs and benefits of engaging in health-compromising behaviors

Stephen A. Small, Susan B. Silverberg, Donell Kerns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present investigation examined the costs and benefits that adolescents perceive for engaging or not engaging in two potentially health-compromising behaviors: underage alcohol use and nonmarital sexual intercourse. A number of hypotheses regarding gender, behavioral status, and grade differences were examined in a sample of over 2400 7th-12th graders. Our hypotheses were more clearly confirmed for perceived costs than for perceived benefits. For both sexual activity and alcohol use, there were strong differences in perceived costs between the two status groups, with nondrinkers and nonsexually active adolescents perceiving significantly more costs to these behaviors. Contrary to our hypotheses, perceived benefits did not discriminate between the two status groups. As was hypothesized, girls generally perceived more costs than did boys for engaging in sexual intercourse and using alcohol; students' perceptions of the costs of alcohol use decreased with increasing grade level. The grade trends concerning the other costs and benefits scales were all complicated by interactions with behavioral status. This study supports the idea that adolescents' perceptions of the costs and benefits of various health-compromising behaviors are related to gender, age, and the behaviors themselves. The findings further indicate that the costs adolescents perceive are more important than the perceived benefits for understanding why some adolescents engage in these behaviors and others do not.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-87
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of youth and adolescence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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