The role of self-control and cognitive functioning in educational inequalities in adolescent smoking and binge drinking

Lisa E.M. Davies, Mirte A.G. Kuipers, Marianne Junger, Anton E. Kunst

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Abstract

Background: Large differences in substance use between educational levels originate at a young age, but there is limited evidence explaining these inequalities. The aim of this study was to test whether a) smoking and binge drinking are associated with lower levels of self-control and cognitive functioning, and b) associations between educational track and smoking and binge drinking, respectively, are attenuated after controlling for self-control and cognitive functioning.

Methods: This study used cross-sectional survey data of 15 to 20-year-olds (N = 191) from low, middle, and high educational tracks. We measured regular binge drinking and regular smoking (more than once a month), cognitive functioning (cognitive ability, reaction time and memory span), and self-control. Logistic regression models were used to assess the associations between educational track and smoking and binge drinking controlled for age, gender and social disadvantage, and for self-control and cognitive functioning.

Results: According to models that controlled for age, gender and social disadvantage only, respondents in the low educational track were more likely to drink heavily (OR = 3.25, 95% CI = 1.48–7.17) and smoke (OR = 5.74, 95% CI = 2.31–14.29) than adolescents in the high educational track. The association between educational track and binge drinking was hardly reduced after adjustment for self-control and cognitive ability (OR = 2.88, 95% CI = 1.09–7.62). Adjustment for self-control and cognitive functioning, especially cognitive ability, weakened the association between education and smoking (OR = 3.40, 95% CI = 1.11–10.37). However, inequalities in smoking remained significant and substantial.

Conclusions: In this study population, pre-existing variations between adolescents in terms of self-control and cognitive functioning played a minor role in educational inequalities in smoking, but not in binge drinking.
Original languageEnglish
Article number714
Number of pages9
JournalBMC public health
Volume17
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sep 2017

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