March 17, 2013
Middle School Daters Do Much Worse In School

What's the direction of causation?

Athens, Ga. - Students who date in middle school have significantly worse study skills, are four times more likely to drop out of school and report twice as much alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use than their single classmates, according to new research from the University of Georgia.

My guess: both genetic and dietary differences cause earlier age of puberty, greater attraction to the opposite sex, and therefore early romance. If you are going crazy about the hottie sitting next to you in class of course it is hard to concentrate.

Drugs to delay the onset of puberty would likely improve educational outcomes. The rare or never daters did best in school. The instinct to reproduce gets in the way of learning.

The Healthy Teens Longitudinal Study included schools from six school districts in northeast Georgia. Investigators used two indicators of students' school success: high school dropout rates and yearly teacher-rated study skills. The results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence.

"In our study, we found four distinct trajectories," Orpinas said. "Some students never or hardly ever reported dating from middle to high school, and these students had consistently the best study skills according to their teachers. Other students dated infrequently in middle school but increased the frequency of dating in high school. We also saw a large number of students who reported dating since sixth grade."

Modest proposal: kids should have to pass a test in solving quadratic equations before a switch that could be installed in their hormonal system gets flipped to start sexual maturation. No puberty before mathematical competence.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 March 17 02:05 PM 

Phillep Harding said at March 17, 2013 5:33 PM:

I'd settle for requiring they pass the boot and urine test.

Mike said at March 18, 2013 1:43 AM:

Proposing to drug other human beings as a way of reaching some petty goals is so much like a mad scientist behaviour, not to mention certain infamous historical regimes. I guess that the next proposal would have been to chemically neuter the students who get low grades. I find it completely irresponsible to even consider drugs, which always come with side effects, ranging from barely acceptable to debilitating, to solve a problem for which there are so many other normal solutions. And of course that you consider the risk worth it, because we all know how often the normal population uses quadratic equations in their daily life … And of course that high grades in school automatically lead to a life of fortune and there is no such thing as a poorly paid scientist … And of course that social skills don’t count in the job market.

This type of attitude explains why ADHD drugs are prescribed like candy. But look at the bright side – drug companies and the stock market are booming.

How about getting out of this oppressive dystopian fantasy and moving towards a more constructive scenario?

On a more balanced note, I find other articles published on this blog quite interesting

Kai Jones said at March 18, 2013 8:30 AM:

The problem with this study is parents will decide not to let their kids date, when that's only a symptom of the real problem. Maybe there are aids or techniques to help kids who are going through puberty learn to focus on their education in spite of the hormonal flux.

Randall Parker said at March 18, 2013 7:22 PM:


We are drugging kids now to have puberty sooner. The drugs have names like Coca Cola, Twinkies, and chocolate milkshake. In the last hundred years puberty for women has shifted about 4 years sooner. that's a massive (and quite harmful) shift. I'm not being petty or a mad scientist for advocating the rollback of this change.

So many other normal solutions: Like what?

Kai Jones,

A large fraction of kids grow up in single parent homes. They are much less supervised. Parents won't respond to this study.

Randall Parker said at March 18, 2013 7:25 PM:

Actually, the shift to earlier female puberty is even large from 17 year old to 12 years old. 12 year olds are so not ready for it.

This causes more heart disease, more breast cancer, more teen out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and much worse school performance.

Mike said at March 19, 2013 4:57 AM:

I find it so typical of the current situation to have a reflex to medicate even perceived problems before taking five minutes to consider if non damaging solutions are available.

Of course that other solutions exist: separate schools - boys only / girls only (popular in the past) – can be applied nowadays only for the more difficult situations; counseling; monitoring and temporary separation; less exposure to problematic media; reduced use of parabens which are known endocrine disruptors and which are almost ubiquitous in cosmetics; better monitoring of the long terms effects of the synergetic combination of inputs heavily used in consumer products – pesticides, plastics (almost all plastic products leach endocrine-disruptive chemicals), etc.

It is unreliable to compare various data (e.g. on the onset of puberty) from the 19xx with the 18xx. The availability of information, the discipline in data collection and the representativity of the sample make the two data sets simply non comparable. Have a look at "Darrell Huff – How to lie with statistics" for very good explanations. In addition, contrary to the presented theory, historical data suggests that marriage at a very young age used to be the norm in the past. So it's good to take these results with a grain of salt.

While longer exposure to the (natural) estrogen hormone might be correlated to certain risks (very different from causation) there is no comparison done with the side-effecting caused by the drugs that block development. There is an article in your link mentioning the terrible effects of such drugs. It's like that joke when the doctor says that the good news is that he cured the disease but the bad news is that the patient died.

JayMan said at March 19, 2013 8:34 AM:

Um, the effects they find is because lower IQ people (r-strategists) are more likely to date younger? I believe that's fairly obvious...

theantifeminist said at March 28, 2013 3:00 PM:

First of all, you should be a little more critical of studies such as these that are likely to have an agenda behind them. The middle-aged woman who authored the study was educated at a Catholic university.

Secondly, corelation or causation? Yes, kids who break social rules (no underage sex) indeed tend to fall into the same group who do less well at academic subjects. No surprise there.

I guess you point regarding thinking about sex being a distraction might still hold, but why isn't learning the ability to lead a healthy sex and dating life considered part of the normal growing up process? My guess is that if teens recieved better sex education then a dating life would likely not interfere with exam results.

Anyway, kids with aspergers and no friends of either sex probably end up with better grades too.

One final point - the age of menarche (onset of puberty) does appear to have been falling over the last century, but the high age that apparently existed in the Victorian does seem to be a historical anomaly. For most of civilisation, as far as is known, girls began puberty at around 12 or earlier.

The idea of giving children drugs to delay puberty is interesting though, not least because of the increasingly diabolical punishments handed out to those unfortunate men who yield to the temptations of 'jail bait'.

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