(1) Background: Reward responsiveness (RR) is a risk factor for high-risk behaviors such as aggressive behaviors and early sexual initiation, which are all reported to be higher in African American and low socioeconomic status adolescents. At the same time, parental education is one of the main drivers of reward responsiveness among adolescents. It is still unknown if some of this racial and economic gap is attributed to weaker effects of parental education for African Americans, a pattern also called minorities’ diminished returns (MDRs). (2) Aim: We compared non-Hispanic White and African American adolescents for the effects of parent education on adolescents RR, a psychological and cognitive construct that is closely associated with high-risk behaviors such as the use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. (3) Methods: This was a cross-sectional analysis that included 7072 adolescents from the adolescent brain cognitive development (ABCD) study. The independent variable was parent education. The main outcome as adolescents’ RR measured by the behavioral inhibition system (BIS) and behavioral activation system (BAS) measure. (4) Results: In the overall sample, high parent education was associated with lower levels of RR. In the overall sample, we found a statistically significant interaction between race and parent education on adolescents’ RR. The observed statistical interaction term suggested that high parent education is associated with a weaker effect on RR for African American than non-Hispanic White adolescents. In race-stratified models, high parent education was only associated with lower RR for non-Hispanic White but not African American adolescents. (5) Conclusion: Parent education reduces RR for non-Hispanic White but not African American adolescents. To minimize the racial gap in brain development and risk-taking behaviors, we need to address societal barriers that diminish the returns of parent education and resources in African American families. We need public and social policies that target structural and societal barriers, such as the unequal distribution of opportunities and resources. To meet such an aim, we need to reduce the negative effects of social stratification, segregation, racism, and discrimination in the daily lives of African American parents and families. Through an approach like this, African American families and parents can effectively mobilize their resources and utilize their human capital to secure the best possible tangible outcomes for their adolescents.
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