Development and Psychopathology

Special Section Articles

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

Suniya S. Luthara1 c1 and Samuel H. Barkina1

a1 Teachers College, Columbia University


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.

(Online publication April 17 2012)


c1 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:


We gratefully acknowledge funding from the National Institutes of Health (R01DA014385-06, R13 MH082592, and R01 DA010726-12). Sincere thanks as well to students in our research laboratory for their invaluable contributions to this programmatic work over the years.