Predictors of co-occurring risk behavior trajectories among economically disadvantaged African-American youth: Contextual and individual factors

Emma M. Sterrett*, Allison B. Dymnicki, David Henry, Gayle R. Byck, John Bolland, Brian Mustanski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Purpose African-American youth, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, evidence high rates of negative outcomes associated with three problem behaviors, conduct problems, risky sexual behavior, and substance use. This study used a contextually tailored version of problem behavior theory (PBT) to examine predictors of the simultaneous development of problem behaviors in this specific cultural group. Methods Sociocontextual and individual variables representing four PBT predictor categories, controls protection, support protection, models risk, and vulnerability risk, were examined as predictors of co-occurring problem behaviors among economically disadvantaged African-American adolescents (n = 949). Specifically, the likelihood of following three classes of multiple problem behavior trajectories spanning ages 12-18, labeled the "early experimenters," "increasing high risk-takers," and "adolescent-limited" classes, as opposed to a "normative" class, was examined. Results Among other findings, controls protection in the form of a more stringent household curfew at age 12 was related to a lower likelihood of being in the "early experimenters" and "increasing high risk-takers" classes. Conversely, vulnerability risk manifested as stronger attitudes of violence inevitability was associated with a higher likelihood of being in the "early experimenters" class. However, the PBT category of support protection was not associated with risk trajectory class. More distal neighborhood-level manifestations of PBT categories also did not predict co-occurring behavior problems. Conclusion Guided by an incorporation of contextually salient processes into PBT, prevention programs aiming to decrease co-occurring problem behaviors among low-income African-American adolescents would do well to target both proximal systems and psychological constructs related to perceived security throughout adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)380-387
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2014


  • African-American
  • Low-income
  • Problem behavior theory
  • Risk behaviors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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