CONTEXT: Although studies have shown that early sex is negatively associated with high school graduation and college enrollment, no recent study has examined the extent to which early sex affects educational attainment, and the mediating mechanisms have not been established.
METHODS: Data from 4,613 female participants in the National Educational Longitudinal Study were used to examine the relationship between early sexual intercourse (i.e., first sex prior to age 15) and educational attainment. Logistic regression analyses that controlled for background characteristics, school performance, behavioral factors and academic aspirations were conducted to assess this association, as well as to explore the potential mediating role of early marriage and childbearing.
RESULTS: Young women who had had early sex had reduced odds of having graduated from high school (odds ratio, 0.4) and from college (0.5). Postsecondary enrollment was positively associated with expectations of postsecondary education (1.5) and levels of academic achievement (1.4–1.5), but not with early sex. Respondents who had married before their expected high school graduation date had reduced odds of having graduated from high school (0.1), enrolled in postsecondary school (0.4) or completed college (0.1); those who had a child before their expected high school graduation date had reduced odds of having graduated from high school (0.3) or college (0.1).
CONCLUSIONS: Programs that target early parenthood and marriage, and that provide hope for future educational opportunities, could lessen the impact of early sex for young women.