The researchers from Universite de Montreal, the University of New Brunswick and Tufts University have found that girls living in poor neighbourhoods were more likely to engage in sexual intercourse in early adolescence and that too with older boys.
"Young girls who live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods are more likely to initiate sex at an early age, especially those young women with conduct problems," said lead author Veronique Dupere, now a post-doctoral fellow at Tufts University, who completed the research at the Universite de Montreal.
"The results suggest that neighbourhoods shape peer groups, which in turn influence when girls become sexually active," she added.
The study showed that teen girls from poor neighbourhoods with a history of conduct problems were more likely to associate with deviant peers and to be initiated into sex by males that were three years older or more.
"Girls with a history of conduct problems were found to be more likely to have deviant and older male friends when they lived in a disadvantaged context," said Dupere.
"Deviant peers are thought to provide a pool of willing partners and cultivate a sense that early sexual activity is desirable," she added.
For the study, a total of 2,596 Canadian adolescents were followed from the ages of 12 to 15 and one quarter of these participants were found to live in poor neighbourhoods.
"During adolescence, peers exert significant influences on different aspects of adolescent behavior and our study results show that sexuality is no exception," said Eric Lacourse, senior author of the study and a Universite de Montreal sociology professor.
"Contrary to girls for whom peers were of primary importance, family and individual risk appeared more influential in boys' timing their first sexual experience," said Dupere.