Skip to main content Accessibility help

Are affluent youth truly “at risk”? Vulnerability and resilience across three diverse samples

  • Suniya S. Luthar (a1) and Samuel H. Barkin (a1)

Building upon prior findings of elevated problems among East Coast suburban youth through the 11th grade, this study establishes disproportionately high incidence of maladjustment across three disparate samples: East Coast Suburban youth at the end of their senior year in high school, and 11th and 12th graders in (a) a Northwest suburb and (b) an East Coast city. Both East Coast samples showed pronounced elevations in substance use, whereas the Northwest suburban sample showed marked vulnerability in serious internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Across all samples, parents’ low perceived containment for substance use (lax repercussions on discovering use) was a major vulnerability factor, followed by parents’ knowledge of their teens’ activities. Overall, adolescents’ symptom levels were more strongly related to their relationships with mothers than with fathers. An exception was boys’ apparent vulnerability to fathers’, but not mothers’, perceived depressive symptoms. As with affluent eighth graders, we found that “overscheduling” in extracurriculars is not a critical vulnerability factor among these high school students. Finally, youth reports suggested that most affluent parents do not indiscriminately bail their children out of all problem situations (although a small subset, apparently, do). Results are discussed along with the implications for practice and for future research.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Suniya S. Luthar, Teachers College, Columbia University, Box 133, 525 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027; E-mail:
Hide All
Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2001). Manual for the ASEBA school-age forms & profiles. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth, & Families.
Anderson, J. (2011, November 22). At Dalton, a student survey reveals dual identities. New York Times. Retrieved from,%20&st=cse
Anderson, J., & Applebome, P. (2011, December 2). Exam cheating on Long Island hardly a secret. New York Times. Retrieved from
Ansary, N. A., & Luthar, S. S. (2009). Distress and academic achievement among adolescents of affluence: A study of externalizing and internalizing problem behaviors and school performance. Development and Psychopathology, 21, 319341.
Armsden, G. C., & Greenberg, M. T. (1987). The Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment: Individual differences and their relationship to psychological well-being in adolescence. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 16, 427454.
Balsa, A. I., Homer, J. F., French, M. T., & Norton, E. C. (2010). Alcohol use and popularity: Social payoffs from conforming to peers’ behavior. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21, 559568.
Becker, B. E., & Luthar, S. S. (2007). Peer-perceived admiration and social preference: Contextual correlates of positive peer regard among suburban and urban adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 17, 117144.
Beardslee, W. R. (2002). Out of the darkened room: When a parent is depressed; protecting the children and strengthening the family. New York: Hachette Book Group.
Brown, S. A. (2008). Prevalence of alcohol and drug involvement during childhood and adolescence. In Beauchaine, T. P. & Hinshaw, S. P. (Eds.), Child and adolescent psychopathology (pp. 405446). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Chassin, L., Beltran, I., Lee, M., Haller, M., & Villalta, I. (2010). Vulnerability to substance use disorders in childhood and adolescence. In Ingram, R. E. & Price, J. M. (Eds.), Vulnerability to psychopathology: Risk across the lifespan (2n ed., pp. 113140). New York: Guilford Press.
Dantzer, C., Wardle, J., Fuller, R., Pampalone, S., & Steptoe, A. (2006). International study of heavy drinking: Attitudes and sociodemographic factors in university students. Journal of American College Health, 55, 8389.
Del Boca, F. K., Darkes, J., Greenbaum, P. E., & Goldman, M. S. (2004). Up close and personal: Temporal variability in the drinking of individual college students during their first year. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72, 155164.
Fosco, G. M., & Grych, J. H. (2010). Adolescent triangulation into parental conflicts: Longitudinal implications for appraisals and adolescent–parent relations. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 254266.
Frost, R. O., Marten, P., Lahart, C. M., & Rosenblate, R. (1990). The dimensions of perfectionism. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 13, 449468.
Garmezy, N. (1971). Vulnerability research and the issue of primary prevention. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 41, 101116.
Garmezy, N. (1974). Children at risk: The search for the antecedents of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 8, 1490.
Garmezy, N. (1983). Stressors of childhood. In Garmezy, N. & Rutter, M. (Eds.), Stress, coping, and development (pp. 43–84). New York: McGraw–Hill.
Gledhill-Hoyt, J., Lee, H., Strote, J., & Wechsler, H. (2000). Increased use of marijuana and other illicit drugs at US colleges in the 1990s: Results of three national surveys. Addiction, 95, 16551667.
Hammen, C. L., Bistricky, S. L., & Ingram, R. E. (2010). Vulnerability to depression in adulthood. In Ingram, R. E. & Price, J. (Eds.), Vulnerability to psychopathology: Risk across the lifespan (pp. 248281). New York: Guilford Press.
Hanson, M. D., & Chen, E. (2007). Socioeconomic status and substance use behaviors in adolescents: The role of family resources versus family social status. Journal of Health Psychology, 12, 3235.
Hinshaw, S. (2007). Mark of shame. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hinshaw, S., & Kranz, R. (2009). The triple bind: Saving our teenage girls from today's pressures. New York: Ballantine Books.
Jackson, K. M., Sher, K. J., Gotham, H. J., & Wood, P. K. (2001). Transitioning into and out of large-effect drinking in young adulthood. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 110, 378391.
Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., & Bachman, J. G. (1984). Drugs and American high school students: 19751983. DHHS (ADM) 85–1374. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.
Kasser, T. (2002). The high price of materialism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Koplewicz, H. S., Gurian, A., & Williams, K. (2009). The era of affluence and its discontents. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 48, 10531055.
Latendresse, S. (2005). Perceptions of parenting among affluent youth: Exploring antecedents of middle school adjustment trajectories. Dissertation Abstracts International, Session B: The Sciences and Engineering, 65, 3746.
Levine, M. (2008). The price of privilege: How parental pressure and material advantage are creating a generation of disconnected and unhappy kids. New York: Harper.
Luthar, S. S. (1999). Poverty and children's adjustment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Luthar, S. S. (2003). The culture of affluence: Psychological costs of material wealth. Child Development, 74, 15811593.
Luthar, S. S. (2006). Resilience in development: A synthesis of research across five decades. In Cicchetti, D. & Cohen, D. J. (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Risk, disorder, and adaptation (2nd ed., pp. 739795). New York: Wiley.
Luthar, S. S., & Ansary, N. S. (2005). Dimensions of adolescent rebellion: Risks for academic failure among high- and low-income youth. Development and Psychopathology, 17, 231250.
Luthar, S. S., & Becker, B. E. (2002). Privileged but pressured? A study of affluent youth. Child Development, 73, 15931610.
Luthar, S. S., & Brown, P. J. (2007). Maximizing resilience through diverse levels of inquiry: Prevailing paradigms, possibilities, and priorities for the future. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 931955.
Luthar, S. S., Cicchetti, D., & Becker, B. (2000). Research on resilience: Reply to commentaries. Child Development, 71, 573575.
Luthar, S. S., & D'Avanzo, K. (1999). Contextual factors in substance use: A study of suburban and inner-city adolescents. Development and Psychopathology, 11, 845867.
Luthar, S. S., Doyle, K., Suchman, N. E., & Mayes, L. (2001). Developmental themes in women's emotional experiences of motherhood. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 165182.
Luthar, S. S., & Goldstein, A. S. (2008). Substance use and related behaviors among suburban late adolescents: The importance of perceived parent containment. Development and Psychopathology, 20, 591614.
Luthar, S. S., & Latendresse, S. J. (2005a). Children of the affluent: Challenges to well-being. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 4953.
Luthar, S. S., & Latendresse, S. J. (2005b). Comparable “risks” at the SES extremes: Pre-adolescents’ perceptions of parenting. Development and Psychopathology, 17, 207230.
Luthar, S. S., & Sexton, C. C. (2004). The high price of affluence. In Kail, R. V. (Ed.), Advances in child development (Vol. 32, pp. 126162). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Luthar, S. S., & Sexton, C. C. (2007). Maternal drug abuse versus maternal depression: Vulnerability and resilience among school-age and adolescent offspring. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 205225.
Luthar, S. S., Shoum, K. A., & Brown, P. J. (2006). Extracurricular involvement among affluent youth: A scapegoat for “ubiquitous achievement pressures?Developmental Psychology, 42, 583597.
Marano, H. E. (2008). A nation of wimps: The high cost of invasive parenting. New York: Broadway Books.
Masten, A. S. (2007). Resilience in developing systems: Progress and promise as the fourth wave rises. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 921930.
McMahon, T. J., & Luthar, S. S. (2006). Substance use, emotional distress, delinquent behavior, and social competence: A longitudinal study of affluent, suburban high school students. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 35, 7289.
Mogel, W. (2001). The blessings of a skinned knee. New York: Penguin.
Price, J. M., & Ingram, R. E. (2010). Future directions in the study of vulnerability to psychopathology. In Ingram, R. E. & Price, J. M. (Eds.), Vulnerability to psychopathology: Risk across the lifespan (2nd ed., pp. 497510). New York: Guilford Press.
Reifman, A., & Watson, W. K. (2003). Binge drinking during the first semester of college: Continuation and desistance from high school patterns. Journal of American College Health, 52, 7381.
Schneider, W. J., Cavell, T. A., & Hughes, J. N. (2003). A sense of containment: Potential moderator of the relation between parenting practices and children's externalizing behaviors. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 95117.
Schulenberg, J. E., & Maggs, J. L. (2002). A developmental perspective on alcohol use and heavy drinking during adolescence and the transition to adulthood. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 14, 5470.
Schulenberg, J. E., & Zarrett, N. R. (2006). Mental health during emerging adulthood: Continuity and discontinuity in courses, causes, and functions. In Arnett, J. J. & Tanner, J. L. (Eds.), Emerging adults in America: Coming of age in the 21st century (pp. 135–172). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Schwartz, B. (2007, March 18). Why the best schools can't pick the best kids—and vice versa. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from
Shedler, J., & Block, J. (1990). Adolescent drug use and psychological health: A longitudinal inquiry. American Psychologist, 45, 612630.
Taylor, S. E. (2002). The tending instinct: How nurturing is essential to who we are and how we live. New York: Holt.
Taylor, S. E. (2006). Tend and befriend: Biobehavioral bases of affiliation under stress. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, 273277.
Tough, P. (2011, September 17). What if the secret to success is failure? New York Times. Retrieved from
Trim, R. S., & Chassin, L. (2008). Neighborhood socioeconomic status effects on adolescent alcohol outcomes using growth models: Exploring the role of parental alcoholism. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 69, 639648.
Tugend, A. (2011, November 18). Doing the ethical thing may be right, but it isn't automatic. New York Times. Retrieved from
United States Bureau of the Census. (2000). American factfinder. Retrieved October 20, 2010, from
Wechsler, H., Lee, J. E., Kuo, M., Seibring, M., Nelson, T. F., & Lee, H. (2002). Trends in college binge drinking during a period of increased prevention efforts: findings from 4 Harvard School of Public Health college alcohol study surveys: 1993–2001. Journal of American College Health, 50, 203217.
Weissbourd, R. (2009). The parents we mean to be: How well-intentioned adults undermine children's moral and emotional development. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Weissbourd, R. (2011). The overpressured student. Educational Leadership, 68, 2227.
Weissman, M. M., Wickramaratne, P., Adams, P., Wolk, S., Verdeli, H., & Olfson, M. (2000). Brief screening for family psychiatric history. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57, 675682.
Weitzman, E. R., Nelson, T. F., & Wechsler, H. (2003). Taking up binge drinking in college: The influences of person, social group, and environment. Journal of Adolescent Health, 32, 2635.
Yates, T. M., Tracy, A. J., & Luthar, S. S. (2008). Nonsuicidal self-injury among “privileged” youth: Longitudinal and cross-sectional approaches to development processes. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76, 5262.
Zahn-Waxler, C., Klimes-Dougan, B., & Slattery, M. (2000). Internaliing problems of childhood and adolescence: Prospects, pitfalls, and progress in understanding the development of anxiety and depression. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 443446.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed