Identifying Sibling Influence on Teenage Substance Use

Joseph G. Altonji, Sarah Cattan, Iain Ware

NBER Working Paper No. 16508
Issued in October 2010
NBER Program(s):Children, Health Economics, Labor Studies

A number of studies have found substantial correlations in risky behavior between siblings, raising the possibility that adolescents may directly influence the actions of their brothers or sisters. We assess the extent to which correlations in substance use and selling drugs are due to causal effects. Our identification strategy relies on panel data, the fact that the future does not cause the past, and the assumption that the direction of influence is from older siblings to younger siblings. Under this assumption along with other restrictions on dynamics, one can identify the causal effect from a regression of the behavior of the younger sibling on the past behavior and the future behavior of the older sibling. We also estimate a joint dynamic model of the behavior of older and younger siblings that allows for family specific effects, individual specific heterogeneity, and state dependence. We use the model to simulate the dynamic response of substance use to the behavior of the older sibling. Our results suggest that smoking, drinking, and marijuana use are affected by the example of older siblings, but most of the link between siblings arises from common influences.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16508

Published: Joseph G. Altonji & Sarah Cattan & Iain Ware, 2017. "Identifying Sibling Influence on Teenage Substance Use," Journal of Human Resources, vol 52(1), pages 1-47. citation courtesy of

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