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None of Your Business: The Principal Agent Problem, or How Teens and Parents Negotiate Sex

Sat, August 11, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Floor: Level 4, 404


This paper attempts to build on qualitative findings about the negotiation surrounding sex by parents and children. Specifically, I propose that this negotiation is best defined as a principal agent problem, where parents are the principals who strive to align the interests of the agents—children—with regard to abstaining from sex. In order to obtain compliance and detect non-compliance, parents may monitor and sanction or attempt to align interests though transmission of specific values—such as disapproval—that would increase compliance. Children, on the other hand, may or may not share parental attitudes, and may or may not comply with parental wishes. Given non-compliance, children may also strategically manage personal information about sex to decrease parental knowledge of non-compliance. Evidence from the Add Health Survey offers preliminary support for the principal-agent model of sexual negotiation between parents and children. These results have significance both for research on the principal agent problem and for general understanding of how parents and children navigate the onset of teen sexual activity.