An interesting “controversy” among American bloggers have caught my attention.
On August 2, 2006, Martino et al. published an article in the journal “Peadiatrics” called Exposure to Degrading Versus Nondegrading Music Lyrics and Sexual Behavior Among Youth. The background for the study is apparently a problem with early sexual activity in the U.S. From the articles abstract:
A recent survey suggested that most sexually experienced teens wish they had waited longer to have intercourse; other data indicate that unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are more common among those who begin sexual activity earlier. Popular music may contribute to early sex. Music is an integral part of teens’ lives. The average youth listens to music 1.5 to 2.5 hours per day. Sexual themes are common in much of this music and range from romantic and playful to degrading and hostile.
Using regression analysis, Martino et al. report that youth who listened to more degrading sexual content were more likely to subsequently initiate intercourse, even after controlling for 18 characteristics that might otherwise explain these relationships.
Now, this does not seem too controversial, but some economists have had their laughs about it. In a blog-posting, Stephen J. Dubner – co-author of the best-selling Freakonomics – argue that the correlation is not causal:
Wouldnâ€™t it make sense that the kind of teenagers who want to have a lot of sex are the same ones who want to listen to sexual music, and the ones who donâ€™t want to have a lot of sex (or at least refrain from doing so) are the same ones who donâ€™t listen to such music?
The argument sounds reasonable, but if Mr. Dubner had read Martino et al.‘s article (he admits that he has not), he would know that the participants were interviewed at three points in time (a longitudinal study): at baseline, when they were 12 to 17 years old, and again 1 and 3 years later. At all of the interviews, participants reported their sexual experience and how frequently they listened more than a dozen musical artists representing a variety of musical genres.
In this way it is possible to say something about which way the causation goes: if many teens neither have had sex or listened to degrading music at baseline, but have started to listen to degrading lyrics 1 year later, and have had intercourse 2 years later, then the correlation between music and sex could be causal. Basically, I think the criticism of the methodology is unjustified.
Finally, Memphis-based columnist Wendi C. Thomas has written
a sympathetic note on the issue; she really likes the study’s result (it makes it easy to argue against hip-hop and rap, I guess), but seems to be almost sad to read the Dubner-critique.
Probably, she need not worry too much…