Abstract The hypothesis that deprivation in the form of parental absence and economic hardship causes youth substance use was tested in a study population consisting of two hundred sixty-two adolescents, ages 13 through 17, and one parent of each. No correlation between family composition and youth substance use was found. Two measures of socioeconomic status, family income and parents' subject rating, also revealed no correlation with youths' substance use behavior. However, when father's occupation was used to evaluate this relationship, significantly more abstainers were shown to have fathers who are professionals, and significantly more users had fathers occupying managerial or foreman-level positions; a possible explanation for this result is that occupation may somehow be related to parental style. The common sense assumption that parental absence and economic hardship are directly responsible for youth substance use is unsupported by our data.