Peer Effects in UK Adolescent Substance Use: Never Mind the Classmates?


  • We thanks the ESPAD team for the data. The United Kingdom ESPAD study was conducted by Professor Martin Plant and Dr Patrick Miller of the University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE). It was mainly funded by the Wates Foundation and UWE. Additional support was provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Oakdale Trust, Butcombe Brewery Ltd, Dr George Carey, the Jack Goldhill Charitable Trust, R& J Lass Charities Ltd and the North British Distillery Company Ltd. We also thank the seminar participants at Queen's University Belfast, the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, the Irish Economic Association Conference 2009, the European Meeting of the Econometric Society 2009, the European Association of Labour Economists Conference 2009 and the Australian Conference of Economists 2010 for useful comments on earlier drafts.


This article estimates peer influences on the alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use of UK adolescents. We present evidence of large, positive and statistically significant peer effects in all three behaviours when classmates are taken as the reference group. We also find large, positive and statistically significant associations between own substance use and friends' substance use. When both reference groups are considered simultaneously, the influence of classmates either disappears or is much reduced, whereas the association between own and friends' behaviours does not change. The suggestion is that classmate behaviour is primarily relevant only inasmuch as it proxies for friends' behaviour.