How social norms affect smoking behavior

Today on World No Tobacco Day, the WHO highlights the various negative effects of smoking, calling attention to the fact that tobacco use worldwide causes more than 7 million deaths every year. Since the effects on health, income and productivity also have important labor market consequences, over 30 IZA Discussion Papers have analyzed various aspects of smoking.

Despite smoking bans and increased awareness of the health dangers, many teenagers still choose to start smoking. Two selected papers look at possible reasons why, including peer pressure, role models and social norms.

When all the cool kids smoke

The IZA Discussion Paper by Juan D. Robalino (Cornell University & IZA) analyzes adolescent peer effects on cigarette consumption, specifically considering the impact of the popularity of peers. Using AddHealth data on American high-school students, Robalino finds that most of the aggregate peer effects regarding cigarette smoking come from the smoking propensity of the 20% most popular kids.

Thus, teens seem to imitate the smoking behavior of popular peers and avoid the behavior of unpopular peers. These patterns even persist seven and thirteen years after peers’ behavior was measured. As a result, Robalino finds that the higher the popularity of peer smokers is, the higher the probability is of an individual picking up smoking and vice versa.

The dark side of gender inequality

The IZA Discussion Paper by Núria Rodríguez-Planas (Queens College & IZA) and Anna Sanz-de-Galdeano (University of Alicante & IZA) focuses on the connection between gender equality and smoking. Although smoking is more prevalent among men, women in many countries are catching up, raising concerns of a future epidemic of tobacco use among women.

The objective of the paper is to understand the role of informal institutional constraints (culture or social norms) in explaining gender differences in smoking among adolescents. The authors analyze the smoking behavior of over 6,000 second-generation immigrant girls and boys aged 15 to 18 coming from 45 different countries of ancestry and living in Spain.

They find that descending from more gender-equal societies makes girls relatively more prone than boys to smoke and engage in other risky behaviors such as drinking or smoking marijuana. Girls whose parents come from more gender-equal societies are also relatively more likely to engage in risky behaviors than their male counterparts. As these risky behaviors are traditionally associated with males, the study suggests that gender equality moves females’ behaviors closer to those of males.

Read the complete papers:

See also more IZA Discussion Papers on smoking bans and smoking behavior.

Image source: pixabay
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