TC Media Center from the Office of External Affairs

Section Navigation

Luthar's Study on Affluent Adolescents is National News


Suniya Luthar

Suniya Luthar

High pressure to achieve and isolation from parents are associated with depression and substance use among adolescents from affluent and suburban upbringings, Professor Suniya Luthar told 40 parents at a forum sponsored by the PTA Council in Fairfield, Connecticut. The forum provided parents with information to help their children survive the stress and pressure of being an adolescent in Fairfield County.

Luthar's recent study, which has had extensive national coverage, reveals that academic pressure and isolation from parents make affluent students more likely to become depressed, and to smoke, drink and abuse drugs. Luthar's study was performed on 302 students in sixth and seventh grade in a northeastern town where the median annual family income in the year 2000 was almost $102,000. In 1999, the national median income per household was $40,816 according to the U.S. Census, and in the same year, the median household income for Fairfield County was $65,249 and in Fairfield, the median household income was $83,512.

Luthar, Professor of Psychology and Education, found suburban tenth-graders had higher levels of substance abuse than inner-city students of the same age. In the study, she and her colleague, Bronwyn E. Becker, found the same substance abuse patterns in seventh-grade boys in an affluent northeastern community. They also found that seventh-grade girls were more likely to show signs of clinical depression. Luthar sees two possible causes for these problems-pressure to excel in school and a lack of closeness to parents. She found that closeness to mothers is essential for preventing depression and substance abuse.

"Upwardly mobile, affluent families place great emphasis on the achievements of children as well as parents, including multiple extracurricular activities. Between the children's busy schedules and the parents' busy professional schedules, very often what you find is that youngsters do not have enough time to sit down and have a calm and relaxing evening with their parents," Luthar said.

According to Luthar, the suburban tenth-graders had significantly higher levels of every kind of substance abuse, such as cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana and other harder narcotics than their counterparts in the inner city. Eighteen percent had used alcohol at least once or more a month on average and 11 percent had smoked that frequently, while 7 percent had become intoxicated and 7 percent had used marijuana an average of once or more a month. Luthar also found that one in every five rich adolescent girls is more apt to be clinically depressed and anxiety is higher in richer kids then inner-city kids.

Among suburban boys, Luthar found the more popular the boys were in the peer group, the more quickly they were to be disruptive in a classroom setting. Luthar noted that previous research has shown that "middle school boys who were best liked by their peers came to be among the most gregarious in high school, with gregariousness involving 'partying' and heavy drinking." Seventh-grade boys in this study who smoked or used drugs and alcohol were among the most popular in their peer group, although researchers said some of them seemed to elicit particularly negative reactions from peers.

"Going against the grain, going against the establishment, is the boys' way of rebelling. They are pressured to do well in all areas of their life, doing drugs is their way of resisting," said Luthar.

This article was written by Alexis Harrison of and edited by Inside TC.

previous page