Attitudes and Behaviors of American Youth

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chapter 11

A few national studies periodically survey the attitudes, opinions, and behavior of American teenagers on a range of topics. For example, since 1979 the University of Michigan has conducted the annual study Monitoring the Future; the study's primary focus is monitoring drug- and alcohol-related behaviors among American secondary school students, college students, and other young adults. Market research firms can also be depended upon to conduct frequent surveys of teens, since teens have significant buying power.

What do teenagers think about? How do they feel about their parents and families, dating, the media, the government, social issues, their personal safety, and other issues? This chapter discusses some of the surveys.


In Teens Today 2003, an annual survey compiled by the Liberty Mutual Group and Students Against Destructive Decisions/Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), researchers reported that 61.3% of teens said they feel happy every day or almost every day. About half of the respondents felt stressed at least once a week, however, and older teens were more likely than younger teens to feel this way (58.8% compared to 28.2%).


Home and Family

According to Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth 2002, a 2003 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2000 about 69% of children lived with two parents. (See Table 11.1.) About 22% of children lived with their mother only, 4% lived with their father only, and 4% did not live with a parent. Among non-Hispanic whites, 77% of children lived with two parents, 16% lived with their mother only, 4% lived with their father only, and 3% did not live with a parent. The majority of African-American children lived with only one parent, 38% lived with two parents, 49% lived with their mother only, 4% lived with their father only, and 9% did not live with a parent. Among Hispanic children, 65% lived with two parents, 25% lived with their mother only, 4% lived with their father only, and 5% lived with no parent.

State of Our Nation's Youth, 2004–2005, a 2004 survey of 1,007 students nationwide done by the Horatio Alger Association, found that despite widespread perception of adolescence as being a time of rocky relationships with parents, 77% of teens say they get along very well or extremely well with their parents. More than half (51%) say that if forced to pick only one role model to emulate, they would choose a family member.

A May 2000 report by the Council of Economic Advisers, Teenagers and Their Parents in the Twenty-first Century: An Examination of Trends in Teen Behavior and the Role of Parental Involvement, used the criteria "eating dinner with a parent" and "feeling close to at least one parent" to measure parental involvement with teens. The survey found that 74% of children ages twelve to fourteen, 61% of children ages fifteen to sixteen, and 42% of children ages seventeen to nineteen had eaten at least five evening meals with a parent in the last week. The report indicated that parental involvement was a major influence in helping teens avoid risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drug use, sexual activity, violence, and suicide attempts. Parental involvement was also helpful in increasing educational achievement and expected attainment.

The report showed that behaviors such as lying to parents, getting into fights, and getting suspended from school were also affected by the amount of closeness teens felt to their parents. More than three-quarters of teens ages fifteen to sixteen who did not have close relationships with their parents said that they lied to their parents. About half of those who did have close relationships

TABLE 11.1

Percentage distribution of living arrangements of children by race and Hispanic origin, selected years, 1970–2000
aPersons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Estimates for Blacks include Hispanics of that race.
bNumbers in these years may reflect changes in the Current Population Survey because of newly instituted computer-assisted interviewing techniques and/or because of the change in the population controls to the 1990 Census-based estimates, with adjustments.
cExcludes families where parents are not living as a married couple.
dBecause of data limitations, includes some families where both parents are present in the household, but living as unmarried partners.
— Data not available.
source: "Table PF 2.2.A. Percentage Distribution of Living Arrangements of Children by Race and Hispanic Origin: Selected Years, 1970–2000," in Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children & Youth, 2002, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003, (accessed September 16, 2004)
All children
Two parentsc857773696868686869
Mother onlyd111822232424232322
Father onlyd123444444
No parent343444444
White, non-Hispanic
Two parentsc908381787777767777
Mother onlyd81415161617161616
Father onlyd123344544
No parent222333333
Two parentsc584238333335363538
Mother onlyd304451525352515249
Father onlyd224445444
No parent1012811989109
Two parentsc787567636264646365
Mother onlyd2027282927272725
Father onlyd23444454
No parent33455555

with their parents lied to their parents. The likelihood of ever being involved in a serious fight or ever getting suspended from school were also lower for teens who felt close to their parents.

Spending Time with Parents

Teens Today 2003 found that more than a quarter of youth (28%) would like to spend more time with their parents. In an April 2000 Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) survey of two hundred children ages twelve to fifteen and their parents, children and parents reported spending about eighty minutes per day together. In that survey 25% of teens surveyed said they would rather spend time with their friends than their families, a sentiment that was more common among boys (31%) than girls (19%). Only 12% of parents surveyed believed their child would rather spend time with friends than family.

Communicating with Parents

Communication between parents and teens is an important influence on teens' emotional maturity and success in life. But according to Teens Today 2000, an earlier survey compiled by the Liberty Mutual Group and Students Against Destructive Decisions/Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), 57% of teens reported that they wanted to discuss topics such as alcohol and drug use and sex with their friends, compared with 15% who wanted to discuss these topics with parents, 15% with an older sibling, 7% with other adults, and 1% with clergy. The Teens Today 2003 survey found that less than half of teens were completely honest with their parents, particularly about problems they struggled with and their feelings about dating relationships.

Parents' and teens' perceptions of their communication differs. The Teens Today 2000 survey found that while almost all parents (98%) believed they communicated with their teens about alcohol use, drug use, and sex, only 76% of teens reported that these discussions occurred. And teens did not always let parents know about their most pressing worries. Suicide ranked as the fifth-leading concern of teenagers but ranked seventeenth with parents.

discussion of sexuality. A study published in the Journal for Adolescent Health (Angela J. Huebner and Laurie W. Howell, "Examining the Relationship between Adolescent Sexual Risk-Taking and Perceptions of Monitoring, Communication, and Parenting Styles," 2003) found that high rates of parental supervision of adolescents (such as knowing where they were after school and at night, knowing the parents of their adolescents' friends, and monitoring television and Internet use) was correlated with lower sexual risk-taking. While the researchers found no relationship between the quantity of general communication between parents and adolescents and adolescent sexual risk-taking, they suggested that talking specifically about sexual topics might have an effect on the sexual behavior of teens as well. Peter S. Karofsky, Lan Zeng, and Michael R. Kosorok reported in "Relationship between Adolescent-Parental Communication and Initiation of First Intercourse by Adolescent" (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2001) that teens who believed they had good communication with their parents were less likely than other teens to engage in sexual intercourse.

discussion of mental health issues. A 2001 survey by the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and the University of Rochester School of Nursing also found differences in how parents and children perceived their communication about anxiety, stress, and depression. About 80% of parents reported that they talked with their children about anxiety at least sometimes, but only 37% of the children said their parents talked with them about this issue. In addition, while 72% of parents said they talked with their children about depression at least sometimes, only 36% of children said their parents had discussed depression with them.

The survey also found that perceptions of communication between parents and their children differed before and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Before the terrorist attacks, about 21% of children and teens reported that they often worried about stressful situations and 39% of parents said they often worried about their children's ability to cope with stress. The perceptions of parents and children became more similar after September 11; at that time 32% of children reported worrying about stressful things and 26% of parents worried about their children's ability to cope. The decreasing gap between perceptions of parents and children may have been due to increased communication between them.

sharing of values. A survey conducted in April 1999 for the YMCA illustrated differences between parents' and teens' perceptions of the role parents play in shaping their children's values. The survey found that while 94% of parents believed that their children learned values from them, 20% of teens said that they did not learn their values from their parents. A 2000 survey by the YMCA also showed that parents underestimated the influence of friends on their children's values. About 11% of parents believed that friends played an important role in forming the values of their children, but 26% of teens said their friends were a critical influence on their value systems. In addition, more parents (62%) than teens (46%) believed that parents and teens shared the same basic values.


Spending by teens in fall 2003 averaged $1,742 annually, up from $1,400 in spring 2003 and $1,536 in fall 2001, according to U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray. In fall 2003 girls spent an average of $1,964, compared with $1,572 in spring 2003 and $1,342 in fall 2002. Boys' spending fell from $1,661 in spring 2002 to $834 in fall 2003. Spending trends for females on apparel increased 25% over spring 2003. Spending trends for males on apparel declined 10% over spring 2003. While The New York Times (Ruth Le Ferla, "Boys to Men: Fashion Pack Turns Younger," July 14, 2002) reported in 2002 that boys were catching up to girls in money spent on clothing, according to the Piper Jaffray survey, by fall 2003 that trend seemed to be reversing.

According to a press release from the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Public Affairs (November 13, 2000), never before in history have children had more money of their own to spend and never before have children had more influence over the spending decisions of their families. Children between the ages of four and twelve influence an estimated $190 billion in purchases and teenagers spend another $140 billion of their own and their parents' money. Despite the control teenagers exert over money, however, their financial literacy is quite low. In its 2004 survey of high school seniors, the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy found that 65.5% of high school seniors failed a test of financial literacy. Although the failing rate was still huge, it was down for the first time since 1997.


A July 2002 report from the market research firm BuzzBack, Understanding Teen Attitudes and Behaviors around Health and Nutrition, found that a majority of teens (69%) would like to improve the way they eat, especially girls (78%, compared with 60% of boys), but fewer than half (42%) said they regularly tried to eat foods that were good for them. Sixty-four percent of teens consumed carbonated soft drinks, 64% ate whatever was available, and only 29% of teens thought about nutrition when they selected foods. Researchers found in 2002 that more than half of bag lunches brought to school by young adolescents had more than the recommended amount of fat; bag lunches averaged about twenty-one grams of sugar; only one in twenty bag lunches contained vegetables; and chips, snacks, or cookies were found in 40% of lunches (Terry L. Conway et al., "What Do Middle School Children Bring in Their Bag Lunches?" Preventive Medicine, vol. 24, 2002).


Female Adolescents and Dating

In December 2002 about 250 women ages thirteen to twenty-four were surveyed by 360 Youth, a young adult sales and marketing firm; the survey results were reported in the firm's e-newsletter, Beats Per Minute. One-third of girls ages thirteen to fifteen (33%) believed it was "extremely important" to have a boyfriend, compared with only 4% of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds. Of the young women ages thirteen to twenty-four who were dating, 48% said they looked for someone with whom they could have a serious relationship but they were not thinking of marriage. When asked to rate traits they looked for in a potential partner, respondents ranked personality and intelligence more highly than looks and athletic ability. On a five-point scale, personality (94%), sense of humor (90%), intelligence (77%), and common interests (72%) were ranked either "extremely" or "very" important. Popularity (64%) and athleticism (63%) were ranked "not very important" or "not important at all."


The Council of Economic Advisors' May 2000 report presented data on the link between regularly dining with parents and the likelihood of teens being sexually active. Among children ages twelve to fourteen, those who regularly ate dinner with a parent were about half as likely to have had sex as other teens their age, and young teens who were close to a parent were less than half as likely to have had sex. These patterns were similar for older teens. About 50% of teens ages fifteen to sixteen who did not regularly eat dinner with a parent had had sex, compared with 32% of teens in this age group who did regularly eat dinner with a parent. Among teens ages seventeen to nineteen, 68% who did not regularly eat dinner with a parent had had sex, compared with 49% who did eat dinner regularly with a parent.

The Teens Today 2003 survey found that 46.3% of teens had engaged in a sexual activity other than kissing, and 38% had had sexual intercourse. The most common motivations among teens for having sex were to strengthen dating relationships and to have fun, but younger teens also said they sometimes had sex in order to feel more grown up. According to The State of Our Nation's Youth, 2004–2005 (Horatio Alger Association, 2004), one in three teens said they struggled with pressure to engage in sexual activity before they felt ready.


In 2003 a survey of teens was conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Seventeen magazine, and the results were reported in Research Alert. The survey found that traditional gender roles still defined teen relationships. Three-quarters (76%) of boys and 64% of girls said boys should ask for a first date. About two-thirds of both boys (69%) and girls (66%) said boys generally made the first move sexually. More than half (56%) of boys and 69% of girls said girls should be solely responsible for ensuring that some form of birth control was used. About 67% of boys and 72% of girls said girls were more likely to say "no" to sex.

Marriage and Children

The results of a Teen People poll of one thousand teens between the ages of thirteen and nineteen were reported in the February 1, 2003, issue of the magazine. The majority of teens believed monogamy was important, with girls more likely than boys to think it was "very important" (94% versus 89%) or "extremely important" (77% versus 65%). In general, survey respondents expected to have had an average of five sexual partners in the next ten years, and 92% planned to marry someday. Near-ly two-thirds (63%) of teens believed that ten years in the future they would have to worry about practicing safe sex, but the results varied by age. Younger teens (ages thirteen to fourteen) were more likely to think they would have to worry than older teens (ages seventeen to nineteen)—76% versus 49%. More girls (68%) than boys (61%) planned on having children some day, and 87% of boys said that it would be someone other than themselves who would perform most of the child-rearing chores.


At least one study (B. Halpern-Felsher and S. G. Millstein, "The Effects of Terrorism on Teens' Perceptions of Dying: The New World Is Riskier Than Ever," Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 30, 2002) found that teens' fears of death rose after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Researchers from the University of California at San Francisco found that ninth graders attending public schools in northern California felt their likelihood of dying was 15.25% before the attacks and 20.87% one month after. The teens' perception of vulnerability was higher after the attacks even in non-terrorist scenarios—for example, students believed they were more at risk of dying during an earthquake (24.64% pre-9/11 versus 41.94% post-9/11) or a tornado (34.62% pre-9/11 versus 64.33% post-9/11).


In 2001 suicide was the fifth-leading cause of death for children ages five to fourteen, and the third-leading cause of death for teens fifteen to nineteen. According to the May 2000 report by the Council of Economic Advisers, for teens of all ages suicidal thoughts were higher among those who do not feel close to a parent. The report showed that younger teens who regularly ate dinner with their parents were about half as likely as other teens to think about suicide. Among teens ages twelve to fourteen, those who didn't feel close to their parents were about three times as likely to think about suicide. Teens ages seventeen to nineteen who didn't feel close to at least one parent were more than twice as likely to think about suicide.

The 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Survey questioned high school students regarding their thoughts about suicide. Almost one in six (16.9%) claimed that they had thought about attempting suicide in the previous twelve months. (See Table 5.6 in Chapter 5.) Of all students, 16.5% had made a specific plan to attempt suicide, 8.5% had attempted suicide in the previous year, and 2.9% said they suffered injuries from the attempt that required medical attention.

A New York Times/CBS News poll of American teenagers reported in January 2000 that nearly half (46%) of respondents knew of someone their age who had attempted suicide. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, authors of an article entitled "Suicide and Friendships among American Adolescents" in American Journal of Public Health (2004) reported that having had a friend who had committed suicide increased suicidal thoughts and attempts among both male and female adolescents. A feeling of social isolation was an additional risk factor for adolescent girls.


Religion plays an important and positive role in the lives of many American teens, according to the National Study of Youth and Religion, a research project being conducted at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. This four-year project, which used data from the 1996 Monitoring the Future Survey, began in August 2001 and continues until August 2005. The first report based on the project (Religion and the Life Attitudes and Self-Images of American Adolescents, December 2002) found that 31% of twelfth graders surveyed attended religious services weekly and 30% said religion was important to them. Teenagers who attended worship services and rated religion as important tended to have positive self-images, to be optimistic, and to enjoy school. According to "Adolescents' Transition to First Intercourse, Religiosity, and Attitudes about Sex," strong religious views appear to help adolescents avoid some risky behaviors (Social Forces, March 2003). Researchers found that female adolescents with a strong religious faith were less likely to become sexually active than other girls.

A 2004 publication from the National Study of Youth and Religion reported that 28% of teens thought religion should exert as much influence as it currently does on American society, and a full 41% thought religion should exert more influence (Are American Youth Alienated from Organized Religion?). Nearly 85% of respondents in the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health reported that they belonged to a religious group; most of these teenagers had a positive relationship with religious institutions.


The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that in 2002 a little more than one-third (37.7%) of high school seniors rated the nation's public schools as "good" or "very good," a higher approval rating than the nation's public schools had had in twelve years. (See Table 11.2.) Students believed that colleges and universities were doing a better job; 69.4% of high school seniors approved of colleges and universities.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), twelfth graders reported a declining interest in school between the years 1983 and 2000. In 1983 40.2% of high school seniors said their schoolwork was "often or always meaningful," but only 28.5% gave the same response in 2000. (See Table 11.3.) The proportion of high school seniors who said most of their courses were "quite or very interesting" dropped from 34.6% in 1983 to 21.2% in 2000, and the percentage of students who said what they were learning in school will be "quite or very important later in life" also declined. Moreover, students became more likely to find their school courses "very or slightly dull"—31.9% gave this response in 2000 compared with only 19.8% in 1983. The Horatio Alger Association found in its annual survey State of Our Nation's Youth, 2004–2005 that high schoolers would give their schools only a 2.9 grade point average (GPA)—the equivalent of a B-minus.

Despite the declining interest in school, the amount of effort expended on schoolwork by high school seniors did not change significantly between 1990 and 2000. The proportion of seniors who said they "often or always try to do their best work" remained between 61% and 66%. Those who reported they "seldom or never fail to complete and hand in school assignments" remained steady at about 60%, and the proportion of those who said they "seldom or never" fool around in class remained at about 35%. The Horatio Alger Association survey found that most students (60%) only do about one to five hours of homework per week; 26% do six to ten hours per week; and 11% do eleven or more hours per week.


Problems That Concern Teens

High school seniors were polled on selected social problems for the 2002 Monitoring the Future study. More than three-quarters (75.5%) of the respondents said they worried about crime and violence at least sometimes, down from 81% the previous year. (See Table 11.4.) Race relations troubled 46.9% of students, down from 55.6% in 1999. Drug abuse concerned 56.9% of seniors; economic problems worried 47%; pollution worried 44.2%; and hunger and poverty concerned 49.7%. More than a third (35.9%) of students were concerned about nuclear war, up from the previous year but down from 52.4% in 1989.

Violence in Schools

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, high school students were less fearful for their safety in 2001 than they had been in previous years. In 2003 5.4% of all students in this age group skipped school at least once in the past thirty days because they were afraid, down from 6.6% in 2001. (See Table 11.5.) Hispanic students were the most likely to not go to school because of safety concerns (9.4%), African-American students were the next most likely (8.4%), and white students were least likely to not go to school because of safety concerns (3.1%). Male

TABLE 11.2

Public opinion of high school seniors on the performance of selected institutions, 1990–2002
(Percent responding "good" or "very good")
Class of 1990 (N=2,600)class of 1991 (N=2,582)class of 1992 (N=2,684)class of 1993 (N=2,773)class of 1994 (N=2,642)class of 1995 (N=2,658)class of 1996 (N=2,455)class of 1997 (N=2,648)class of 1998 (N=2,608)class of 1999 (N=2,357)class of 2000 (N=2,216)class of 2001 (N=2,201)class of 2002 (N=2,250)
Note: Response categories were "very poor," "poor," "fair," "good," "very good," and "no opinion."
source: "Table 2.70. High School Seniors Reporting Positive Attitudes toward the Performance of Selected Institutions," in Public Attitudes toward Crime and Criminal Justice–Related Topics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 2002 (accessed September 16,2004)
Large corporations38.4%36.3%31.8%31.5%34.6%37.9%36.3%35.3%43.0%42.1%43.0%39.3%38.4%
Major labor union31.731.328.927.
The nation's colleges and universities73.870.
The nation's public schools36.133.632.529.027.231.830.630.
Churches and religious organizations47.049.250.346.950.350.249.048.352.652.450.152.148.8
The national news media (TV, magazines, news services)54.751.147.940.537.933.134.534.836.139.837.638.843.0
The President and his administration41.856.823.824.922.119.724.026.834.133.335.732.854.0
Congress—that is, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives32.938.315.916.618.820.618.121.728.729.931.433.042.2
The U.S. Supreme Court40.944.135.731.031.029.830.430.536.638.938.237.141.5
All the courts and the justice system in general27.831.223.421.119.320.621.222.425.729.428.930.732.9
The police and other law enforcement agencies34.328.026.927.129.328.727.628.733.033.733.633.238.9
The U.S. military58.880.662.257.054.354.855.652.956.759.455.555.770.1

TABLE 11.3

Percentage distribution of 12th-graders according to their ratings of school work's meaningfulness, courses' degree of interest, and the importance of their school learning in later life, by sex, high school program, and average grades, 1983, 1990, 1995, and 2000
How often school work is meaningfulHow interesting most courses areHow important school learing will be in later life
Student characteristicsSeldom or neversometimesOften or alwaysVery or slightly dullFairly interestingQuite or very interestingNot or slightly importantFairly importantQuite or very important
High school program1
Average grades in high school2
C's or D's25.540.833.727.947.824.228.930.640.4
High school program1
Average grades in high school2
C's or D's25.346.328.535.645.818.628.831.040.1
High school program1
Average grades in high school2
C's or D's33.042.724.242.243.614.231.433.934.7

and female students were almost equally likely to skip school because of safety concerns (5.5% of male students and 5.3% of female students). Younger students were more likely to stay away from school because of safety concerns than were older students (6.9% of ninth graders compared with 3.8% of twelfth graders).

According to the survey, in 2003 6.1% of high school students carried a weapon (gun, knife, or club) to school on one of the thirty days preceding the survey. (See Table 11.5.) Males were more likely (8.9%) to have carried a weapon to school than females (3.1%). African-American students (6.9%) were more likely than Hispanic students (6%) and white students (5.5%) to carry a weapon to school.

About one in ten high school seniors (9.2%) reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property one or more times during the twelve months prior to the survey. (See Table 11.5.) Non-Hispanic African-American high school students were more likely to have been threatened or injured (10.9%) than were Hispanic

1Respondents in a category labeled "Other/don't know," not shown separately, are included in the totals.
2Categories were made from students' reports of their average grade in high school.
Note: The data do not meet NCES standards for response rates. Percentages may not add to 100.0 due to rounding.
source: "Table 18-1. Percentage Distributions of 12th-Graders according to Their Ratings of School Work's Meaningfulness, Courses' Degree of Interest, and the Importance of their School Learning in Later Life, by Sex, High School Program, and Average Grades: 1983, 1990, 1995, and 2000," in "12th-Graders' Effort and Interest in School," The Condition of Education 2002, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, May 2002, (accessed September 16, 2004)
High school program1
Average grades in high school2
C's or D's35.439.724.945.540.713.831.432.735.9

(9.4%) or non-Hispanic white students (7.8%). Younger students were much more likely than older students to report having been threatened or injured with a weapon at school; more students in ninth grade were threatened or injured (12.1%) than students in grades ten (9.2%), eleven (7.3%), or twelve (6.3%).


The 2003 Teen People poll found that 80% of teens surveyed believed that in their lifetime there will be another terrorist attack in the United States on the scale of the attacks of September 11, 2001. More than half of teens (57%) believed the United States government is prepared for such an attack, and 26% believed that in ten years terrorist attacks and suicide bombings will be the greatest threat to the world.

Substance Abuse

Data from Monitoring the Future, as reported by the BJS, show that starting in 1993 high school seniors' disapproval of marijuana use began to decline. More than two-thirds of students in the class of 1992 (69.9%) expressed disapproval of adults who tried marijuana once or twice. By 2002 only about half of high school seniors (51.6%) expressed disapproval of this behavior. Rates of disapproval of drinking alcohol and taking steroids also declined over the period, while disapproval of smoking one or more packs of cigarettes per day remained relatively steady. In 2002 30.8% of high school seniors thought that marijuana use should be made legal, and 29.1% believed it should be considered a crime. According to the Horatio Alger Association 2004 survey, over a third of students (38%) struggled with peer pressure to drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

Corporations and Government

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, in Source book of Criminal Justice Statistics: 2002, reported that 38.4% of high school seniors in the class of 2002 believed that U.S. corporations were doing a "good" or "very good" job, up from a low of 31.5% in the class of 1994. (See Table 11.2.) During the 1990s high school seniors' approval of most areas of the government declined, but approval ratings in most areas were up in 2002 over the year before, perhaps due to the governmental and military responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In 2001 32.8% of high school seniors believed that the president and his administration were doing a "good" or "very good" job; in 2002 54% believed the president was doing a good job. In 2002 42.2% approved of the Congress, up significantly from the year before, when only 33% of high school seniors approved of the work Congress was doing. In 2001 55.7% of seniors thought the U.S. military was doing a good job; in 2002 the approval rating was up to 70.1%, the highest approval rating of all rated institutions.

TABLE 11.4

Public opinion of high school seniors on selected social problems, 1990–2002
(Percent responding "sometimes" or "often")
Class of 1990 (N=2,595)Class of 1991 (N=2,595)Class of 1992 (N=2,736)Class of 1993 (N=2,807)Class of 1994 (N=2,664)Class of 1995 (N=2,646)Class of 1996 (N=2,502)Class of 1997 (N=2,651)Class of 1998 (N=2,621)Class of 1999 (N=2,348)Class of 2000 (N=2,204)Class of 2001 (N=2,222)Class of 2002 (N=2,267)
Note: These data are from a series of nationwide surveys of high school seniors conducted by the Monitoring the Future Project at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research from 1975 through 2002. The survey design is a multistage random sample of high school seniors in public and private schools throughout the continental United States. All percentages reported are based on weighted cases; the Ns that are shown in the tables refer to the number of weighted cases. Response categories were "never," "seldom," "sometimes," and "often."
source: "Table 2.68. High School Seniors Reporting that They Worry about Selected Social Problems," in Public Attitudes toward Crime and Criminal Justice–Related Topics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 2002, (accessed September 16, 2004)
Crime and violence88.8%88.1%91.6%90.8%92.7%90.2%90.1%86.5%84.4%81.8%83.5%81.0%75.5%
Drug abuse82.679.577.875.576.772.671.071.165.362.760.961.156.9
Hunger and poverty65.966.468.171.165.762.362.661.155.554.554.451.349.7
Chance of nuclear war45.141.533.428.827.920.021.620.429.032.123.723.935.9
Economic problems56.863.970.671.862.655.757.951.547.644.845.247.047.0
Race relations57.159.468.775.471.668.970.764.756.055.651.252.646.9
Energy shortages32.638.235.229.823.817.919.219.418.320.822.031.222.6
Using open land for housing or industry33.933.834.732.932.728.932.632.730.827.532.630.628.5
Population growth33.030.635.238.935.434.937.438.234.831.736.336.728.3
Urban decay20.421.725.825.325.623.

TABLE 11.5

Percentage of high school students who reported violence-related behaviors by sex, race, ethnicity, and grade, 1991–2003
Carried a weapon (e.g., a gun, knife, or club)§
White, non-Hispanic25.120.618.917.016.417.916.7
Black, non-Hispanic32.728.521.821.717.215.217.3
In a physical fight††
White, non-Hispanic41.040.336.033.733.132.230.5
Black, non-Hispanic50.649.541.643.041.436.539.7
Injured in a physical fight††§§
White, non-Hispanic3.
Black, non-Hispanic6.
Carried a weapon (e.g., a gun, knife, or club) on school property§
White, non-Hispanic10.
Black, non-Hispanic15.
In a physical fight on school property ††
White, non-Hispanic15.012.913.312.311.210.0
Black, non-Hispanic22.020.320.718.716.817.1

TABLE 11.5

§On ≥ 1 of the 30 days preceding the survey.
†† One or more lines during the 12 months preceding the survey.
§§ Injuries had to be treated by a doctor or nurse.
source: "Percentage of High School Students Who Reported Violence-Related Behaviors, by Sex, Race/Ethnicity, and Grade—Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 1991–2003," in "Violence-Related Behaviors among High School Students—United States, 1991–2003," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 53, no. 29, July 30, 2004. (accessed September 16, 2004)
Threatened or injured with a weapon (e.g., a gun, knife or club) on school property ††
White, non-Hispanic6.
Black, non-Hispanic11.
Did not go to school because of safety concerns§
White, non-Hispanic3.
Black, non-Hispanic7.

The Criminal Justice System

In 2002 38.9% of high school seniors believed that police and other law enforcement agencies were doing a "good" or "very good" job, up from the level of confidence seniors expressed the year before (33.2%). (See Table 11.6.) White students (43.5%) were more likely than African-American students (23.7%) to express approval, as were students who had never used illegal drugs (42.4%).

The War in Iraq

According to The State of Our Nation's Youth, 2004–2005, a survey done by the Horatio Alger Association, less than half of students surveyed (44%) believed in 2004 that the United States had been right to go to war in Iraq in March 2003. A third of the students (33%) believed the United States was wrong to go to war, while nearly a quarter (23%) had no opinion. Male students were more likely than female students (53% of males compared with 35% of females) to approve of the war; white students (51%) were much more likely than African-American students (25%) or Hispanic students (29%) to approve of the war. Most students (55%) also expected the United States to institute a military draft, but almost three-quarters (70%) opposed that possibility.



According to the Horatio Alger Association survey, 87% of high school students believed that it is critical or very important to graduate from college. Still, in 2002 less than half of tenth graders expected they would attain a bachelor's degree, although expectations of college achievement had risen steadily since 1980. (See Figure 11.1.) The National Education Longitudinal Study found that 40% of tenth graders thought they would attain a bachelor's degree; that percentage varied little by the socioeconomic status (SES) of the student. However, the percentage of students who believed they would attain a graduate or professional degree varied significantly by socioeconomic status: 28% of students with a low SES believed they would attain a graduate or professional degree; 55% of students with a high SES believed they would attain one. The same study found that females were outpacing males in their expectations of educational achievement; in 2002 46.6% of female tenth graders

TABLE 11.6

Public opinion of high school seniors on the performance of the police and other law enforcement agencies, 1990–2002
(Percent responding "good" or "very good")
Class of 1990 (N=2,600)Class of 1991 (N=2,582)Class of 1992 (N=2,684)Class of 1993 (N=2,773)Class of 1994 (N=2,642)Class of 1995 (N=2,658)Class of 1996 (N=2,455)Class of 1997 (N=2,648)Class of 1998 (N=2,608)Class of 1999 (N=2,357)Class of 2000 (N=2,216)Class of 2001 (N=2,201)Class of 2002 (N=2,250)
Note: Response categories were "very poor," "poor," "fair," "good," "very good," and "no opinion."
source: "Table 2.71. High School Seniors Reporting Positive Attitudes toward the Performance of the Police and Other Law Enforcement Ag encies," in Public Attitudes toward Crime and Criminal Justice-Related Topics, " Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 2002, (accessed September 16, 2004)
North Central35.235.727.728.529.929.924.525.432.834.333.235.739.2
College plans
Lifetime illicit drug use
Marijuana only33.627.023.524.025.826.325.527.730.233.429.632.041.1
Few pills31.529.423.325.226.724.236.326.
More pills26.617.521.322.222.925.820.021.625.924.928.826.830.8


expected to receive a graduate or professional degree, compared with only 32.8% of males.

Beyond College: Money Matters

The 2003 Teen People poll found that the majority (97%) of teens expected to make as much or more money than their parents. This expectation was more true of non-white teens (77%) than white teens (61%). Half of teens expected to earn at least $50,000 a year, and 29% believed that they would make upwards of $100,000 a year.

The survey revealed gender differences in attitudes about "bringing home the bacon." More than three-quarters (77%) of girls expected to be one of two equal breadwinners, compared with only 42% of boys. More than half (55%) of boys expected to be the "main breadwinner," compared with only 15% of girls. Only 5% of female respondents expected to be supported by their mate.

Students surveyed for the 1999 Phoenix Student Fiscal Fitness Survey, a Yankelovich Partners study conducted for the Phoenix Home Life Mutual Insurance Company (now the Phoenix Companies, Inc.), expressed an interest in overcoming their lack of confidence in money management skills. Only one in five young people felt they were "very good" at managing money, while 13% said they were not. About 29% of students said their parents provided a lot of financial guidance, and 74% agreed that schools should teach money management. The No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2002, authorized the use of federal funds for teaching basic economic principles and personal finance skills.

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Attitudes and Behaviors of American Youth

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