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01-08-2010 | Empirical Research | Uitgave 8/2010

Journal of Youth and Adolescence 8/2010

Exploring Gender-Specific Trends in Underage Drinking Across Adolescent Age Groups and Measures of Drinking: Is Girls’ Drinking Catching Up with Boys’?

Journal of Youth and Adolescence > Uitgave 8/2010
Hua Zhong, Jennifer Schwartz


Underage drinking is among the most serious of public health problems facing adolescents in the United States. Recent concerns have centered on young women, reflected in media reports and arrest statistics on their increasing problematic alcohol use. This study rigorously examined whether girls’ alcohol use rose by applying time series methods to both arrest data, Uniform Crime Reports, and self-report data from Monitoring the Future, a nationally representative long-term survey gathered independently of crime control agents. All self-reported drinking behaviors across all age groups show declining or unchanged female rates and no significant change in the gender gap, while the official source displays a steady narrowing gender gap and some increase of female arrest rates for liquor law violations. Results indicate that social control measures applied to underage drinking have shifted to target young women’s drinking patterns, but their drinking has not become more widespread/problematic. Girls’ increased alcohol use and abuse is a socially constructed problem, rather than the result of normalization of drinking or more strain in girls’ lives. Future underage drinking policies and practices that apply legal intervention strategies to less chronic adolescent drinking behaviors will increase the visibility of girls’ drinking.

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