Medical Adaptation to Academic Pressure: Schooling, Stimulant Use, and Socioeconomic Status

Marissa D. King, Jennifer Jennings, Jason M. Fletcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the rise of medical interventions to address behavioral issues in childhood, the social determinants of their use remain poorly understood. By analyzing a dataset that includes the majority of prescriptions written for stimulants in the United States, we find a substantial effect of schooling on stimulant use. In middle and high school, adolescents are roughly 30 percent more likely to have a stimulant prescription filled during the school year than during the summer. Socioeconomically advantaged children are more likely than their less advantaged peers to selectively use stimulants only during the academic year. These differences persist when we compare higher and lower socioeconomic status children seeing the same doctors. We link these responses to academic pressure by exploiting variation between states in educational accountability system stringency. We find the largest differences in school year versus summer stimulant use in states with more accountability pressure. School-based selective stimulant use is most common among economically advantaged children living in states with strict accountability policies. Our study uncovers a new pathway through which medical interventions may act as a resource for higher socioeconomic status families to transmit educational advantages to their children, either intentionally or unwittingly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1039-1066
Number of pages28
JournalAmerican sociological review
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 25 2014


  • accountability
  • education
  • social determinants of health
  • social stratification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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