A new study published online in the Journal of Health Economics finds no association between parental involvement (PI) laws and direct measures of sexual behavior or rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The study, “Do Parental Involvement Laws Deter Risky Teen Sex,” due to be published in the journal’s September 2013 print edition, uses data from the national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study was conducted by Silvie Colman, Ph.D., Mathematica Policy Research, Thomas S. Dee, Ph.D., Stanford University and Ted Joyce, Ph.D., Baruch College, City University of New York and the National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
Laws in 38 states require physicians to obtain consent or notify parents when a minor seeks an abortion. Some supporters of these PI laws argue that the requirement to discuss a pregnancy with parents might reduce risky sexual behavior and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among teens.
“Our findings have important public health implications. Given the alarmingly high rate of STIs among teens, decreasing risky sexual behavior and thereby reducing the spread of STIs among young individuals is extremely important. Our results suggest that PI laws do not encourage minors to change sexual behaviors that might lower the incidence of STIs,” according to Colman.
“If states want to reduce STIs, they should consider other measures or policy approaches,” Colman added.
Several other studies have shown mixed results on whether or not PI laws curb risky sexual behavior. The latest study by Colman and her colleagues draws on ten years of additional data as well as multiple and updated sources of data. It incorporates data on use of condoms and birth control pills to measure sexual behavior. And it compares STI rates among minors and 19-21 year olds in states with and without parental involvement laws, using both gonorrhea and chlamydia data.
“It is important to include chlamydia data in these studies, because chlamydia is roughly 10 times more common among young adults and teens than gonorrhea,” Colman said. Some of the prior research is limited to analyzing rates of gonorrhea.
Based on the updated and multiple sources of data, the Colman study finds little evidence that parental involvement laws have a statistically significant relationship with changes in rates of gonorrhea or chlamydia among 15-19 year olds, nor does it find that the laws induce minors to change their sexual behaviors.