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Gender, Interaction, and Delinquency: Testing a Theory of Differential Social Control

NCJ Number
Social Psychology Quarterly Volume: 59 Issue: 1 Dated: 1996 Pages: 39-61
Date Published
23 pages

Drawing on principles of symbolic interactionism and research on gender differences in interactions, this study developed an interactionist explanation of gender differences in the processes leading to juvenile delinquency.


Findings show that delinquency by both girls and boys occurs through a process of role-taking in which youths consider the perspectives of significant others. Role-taking, in turn, is shaped by group commitments and social-structural locations. This study thus provides further support for the interactionist theory of delinquency (Heimer and Matsueda, 1994; Matsueda, 1992). In addition, the current research also extends the interactionist theory by specifying the role of gender. Internalizing gender definitions reduces delinquency among girls but not among boys. Society's image of femininity incorporates law-abiding and normative behavior; whereas, images of masculinity encompass risk-taking, aggression, and rebellion against authority figures. This suggests that girls' misbehavior can be controlled by inculcating values and attitudes; whereas, boys may require more direct and firm controls. Future work on gender, interaction, and delinquency also should examine other dimensions of gender definitions and gender-related social controls. This study used longitudinal data from the National Youth Survey (NYS). Using a multistage cluster sampling frame, the NYS obtained a national probability sample of 11- to 17-year-olds in the United States in 1976. The current analyses use variables from the first three annual waves of interviews. The attrition rate was only 4 percent in 1978 and 6 percent in 1979. In addition to collecting a broad range of measures from youths, the NYS also interviewed one parent per youth at the first wave (1977). The analyses reported in this article use the youth and parent data from the 766 females and 870 males who remain after pairwise deletion of missing data. 1 figure, 5 tables, and 72 references

Date Published: January 1, 1996