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Title page for ETD etd-04072014-095007

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Bell, Mary Therese Laske
Author's Email Address mary.t.laske@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-04072014-095007
Title Risk Orientation and Risk-Taking Behavior: The Impact of Race/Ethnicity and Gender on Mental Health and Substance Use among Young Adults
Degree PhD
Department Sociology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
C. André Christie Mizell Committee Chair
Derek M. Griffith Committee Member
Richard T. Serpe Committee Member
Tony N. Brown Committee Member
Tyson H. Brown Committee Member
  • Mental health
  • race/ethnicity
  • gender
  • alcohol use
  • youth and young adults
Date of Defense 2014-04-02
Availability unrestricted
Current research on the well-being of youth and young adults claims that this stage of the life course includes a higher propensity for risk-taking behavior than earlier or later periods. While most youth tend to “age out” of this high-risk period, less is known about the precursors of such behaviors or under what circumstances these behaviors persist. The preponderance of studies in this area focus heavily on individual-level, psychological, or neurological/biological explanations for the relationship between risk and well-being. What appears to be missing from this research is a critical examination of how social status (e.g., race/ethnicity and gender) plays a role in shaping how risk impacts well-being. This dissertation takes a closer look at the relationship between risk and well-being and whether patterns vary by race/ethnicity and gender. This work merges tenets of several theories, including the risk and resilience framework (Anthony and Cohen 1987; Dent and Cameron 2004; Egeland, Carlson, and Sroufe 1993; Hollister-Wagner, Foshee, and Jackson 2001; Kaplan 2005; Luthar, Cicchetti and Becker 2000; Schofield 2001; Rutter 1985; 2001), the life course perspective (George 2007), and intersectionality theory (Chappell and Havens 1980; Crenshaw 1989; Dowd and Bengston 1978; Good and Wood 1995; Rosenfield 2012). Utilizing data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), outcomes are assessed among a nationally representative sample of African American, Latino, and white youth (N= 1,483). The results demonstrate that 1) risk orientation (i.e., the propensity to find risk acceptable) is shaped by different factors across race and gender, 2) the benefits and consequences of risk vary by outcomes (e.g., curvilinear effect on depressive symptoms, but linearly related to alcohol use), and 3) risk and well-being have a reciprocal relationship for some groups (e.g., African Americans and women), but not others (Whites and Latino men). The impact of risk orientation on well-being is independent of risk-taking behaviors, and scholars should continue to study both the potential benefits and consequences of risk across the life course and across social status.
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