Economic Benefits of Delayed Sexual Activity

Publication Date: March 5, 2021
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  • Pages: 124
  • Published: 2021

Introduction

Research Questions

  1. What is the net economic benefit to society as a whole when an adolescent delays voluntary sexual activity?
  2. How does the net benefit of delayed adolescent sexual activity vary according to the specific age cutoff used to define delay?
  3. How much of the net benefit to society accrues to the individual adolescents who choose to delay sexual activity, and how much accrues to taxpayers?

The avoidance of sexual activity among youth not only prevents unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections but can also promote healthy outcomes and contribute to the positive development of youth. Research has shown, in particular, that delayed initiation of sexual intercourse can lead to increases in high school graduation, short-term gains in mental health, and improved relationship quality in early adulthood. Economic analysis is a method to calculate the potential savings and costs tied to changes in specific policies, programs, or behaviors and can summarize the overall net benefit of delayed sexual initiation.

This short video provides a summary of the report findings, followed by a discussion of the findings with experts.

Purpose

This report provides summary estimates of the net lifetime benefit that accrues when a single adolescent chooses to delay voluntary sexual activity. These estimates are useful for valuing the type of changes in behavior that are possible in response to federally funded and other sexual risk avoidance and teen pregnancy prevention programs. As such, they can be used to inform decision making by program providers and policymakers.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • The economic benefits of delayed sexual activity vary depending on the population examined, age cutoff used to define delay in sexual activity, perspective from which benefits are evaluated, and assumptions used for the analysis. In particular:
    • Estimated benefits are consistently higher for females than for males.
    • The results show no clear pattern based on the age cutoff used to define delayed sexual activity.
    • Benefits are greatest from the perspective of society as a whole. For the most part, these benefits accrue primarily to the individual adolescents who choose to delay sex. Other taxpayers accrue a smaller net benefit.
    • As expected, more stringent assumptions yield smaller estimates of net benefits.
  • Choosing a couple of specific examples, using less stringent assumptions, from the perspective of society, the analysis indicates:
    • A net benefit of $43,437 for females and $26,204 for males from delaying voluntary sexual activity to age 18 or later.
    • A net benefit of $64,707 for females, and no benefit for males, from delaying voluntary sexual activity until the age of first marriage.
    • Using more stringent assumptions for the analysis reduces the estimates by 78 to 100 percent.
  • Reductions in teen pregnancy and unintended pregnancy in adulthood account for some—but not all—of the estimated net benefits.

Methods

To produce the estimates of net lifetime per capita benefit presented in this report, the study team examined the relationship between delayed sexual activity and a wide range of later behaviors and outcomes, known as the “ingredients” for the economic analysis. The team then estimated the net benefit of the predicted changes in the ingredients in dollar terms. Finally, the team combined these estimates across ingredients to produce an overall summary per capita estimate of the net lifetime benefit of delayed voluntary sexual activity. The team produced separate summary estimates (1) for males versus females, (2) for different age cutoffs used to define delay, and (3) using different sets of assumptions about the extent of the predicted change for each ingredient, accounting for uncertainty in the estimated relationships between delay in sexual activity and the ingredients. Further, the team estimated benefits from three perspectives: that of the adolescents, that of other taxpayers, and that of society as a whole.

Citation

Rotz, Dana, Brian Goesling, Hande Inanc, and Gregory Chojnacki (2021). Economic Benefits of Delayed Sexual Activity. OPRE Report # 2021-22. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.