Exploring the Link Between Caregiver Affect and Adolescent Sexual Behavior: Does Neighborhood Disadvantage Matter?


  • This paper was supported by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (#1R01HD060719). The authors also thank Laurence Steinberg for providing critical comments on an early draft of our manuscript.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Margo Gardner, National Center for Children and Families, Teachers College, Columbia University, Thorndike Hall, Box 39, 525 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027. E-mail: gardner@tc.edu


In a sample of urban youth (= 1,070), we examined the links between primary caregiver affect (i.e., warmth and hostility) and two measures of sexual behavior in adolescence—early sexual initiation and sex with multiple partners. We also examined the extent to which neighborhood disadvantage moderated associations between caregiver affect and adolescent sexual behavior. We found that caregiver hostility was positively associated with early sex and sex with multiple partners in neighborhoods characterized by high levels of disadvantage, but inversely associated with both sex outcomes in neighborhoods characterized by low levels of disadvantage. Caregiver warmth, on the other hand, was inversely associated with early sexual initiation and sex with multiple partners in all neighborhoods, regardless of neighborhood disadvantage.