Lawrence J Mone, President, the Manhattan Institute. A report by the Institute found no behavioural differences between urban and suburban teenage students



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Little behavioural difference between
urban and suburban teenagers
A report by the Manhattan Institute, NYC

7 February 2004: For the last several decades American middle-class families have been fleeing from the US cities to the suburbs, in part because many parents see the suburbs, and suburban public schools in particular, as refuges from the disorder and social collapse that appears to them endemic to America's urban school districts. Parents believe that suburban public schools provide children with safer, more orderly, and more wholesome environments than their urban counterparts.

A 2004 report by the Manhattan Institute, a New York-based conservative think tank, finds that those perceptions are unfounded.

The report’s authors Jay Greene and Greg Forster analyzed student survey data collected from the same group of students in three waves, from 1995 to 2002. The survey, which included an estimated 20,000 students, was sponsored by the US National Institute of Child Health & Human Development and other US federal agencies.

Using hard data on high school students from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, one of the most comprehensive and rigorous studies of the behaviour of American high school students, the Manhattan Institute report points out that suburban public high school students have sex, drink, smoke, use illegal drugs, and engage in delinquent behaviour as often as urban public high school students. Students also engage in these behaviours more often than most people realize.

The Manhattan Institute report's main findings
• Urban and suburban high schools are virtually identical in terms of widespread sexual activity. Two thirds of all suburban and urban 12th graders have had sex; 43 per cent of suburban 12th graders and 39 per cent of urban 12th graders have had sex with a person with whom they did not have a romantic relationship.

• Pregnancy rates are high in both suburban and urban schools, although they are higher in urban schools; 14 per cent of suburban 12th grade girls and 20 per cent of urban 12th grade girls have been pregnant.

• Over 60 per cent of suburban 12th graders have tried cigarette smoking, compared to 54 per cent of urban 12th graders; 37 per cent of suburban 12th graders have smoked at least once a day for at least 30 days, compared to 30 per cent of urban 12th graders.

• Alcohol use followed a similar pattern; 74 per cent of suburban 12th graders and 71 per cent of urban 12th graders have tried alcohol more than two or three times; 63 per cent of suburban 12th graders and 57 per cent of urban 12th graders drink without family members present; 22 per cent of suburban 12th graders and 16 per cent of urban 12th graders have driven while drunk.

• About four out of ten 12th graders in both urban and suburban schools have used illegal drugs; 20 per cent of suburban 12th graders and 13 per cent of urban 12th graders have driven while high on drugs.

• Urban and suburban students are about equally likely to engage in other delinquent behaviours such as fighting and stealing.

In conclusion
Parental concern about the rising influence of sex, drugs, and delinquency in urban schools has long been recognized as a significant factor in the last few decades’ population flight from the cities to the suburbs. Parents are fleeing urban schools not just because of low academic performance but also because they believe suburban schools are safer and more wholesome. But the report suggests that fleeing from city to suburb doesn’t produce much difference in the level of these problems one finds at the local school. The desks may be newer, the paint may be fresher, and the faces may be whiter, but the students are just as likely to have sex, use controlled substances, and break the law. The comforting outward signs of order and decency—shiny new schools armed with expensive textbooks and staffed by teachers who have mastered the latest educational fads—don’t seem to be associated with substantial differences in student behaviour.




Students at this New York City school are no more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour than their peers in suburban schools


Introducing the Manhattan Institue
For 25 years, the Manhattan Institute has been an important conservative force in shaping American political culture. The Institute has supported and publicized research on the era’s most challenging public policy issues: taxes, welfare, crime, the legal system, urban life, race, education, and many other topics.

The Institute has cultivated a staff of senior fellows and writers who blend intellectual rigor, sound principles, and strong writing ability. Their provocative books, reviews, interviews, speeches, articles, and op-ed pieces have been the main vehicle for communicating its message.

Books are central to the Institute’s approach. It makes every effort to ensure that its authors are published by respected trade publishers and that their books receive as much review attention and publicity as possible. According to the Manhattan Institute, nothing allows it to make a sustained, comprehensive argument more effectively. The Institute’s quarterly City Journal is one of America’s widely-read magazines about urban governance and civic life.