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Socioeconomic Status, Subcultural Definitions, and Violent Delinquency

NCJ Number
Social Forces Volume: 75 Issue: 3 Dated: (March 1997) Pages: 799-834
Date Published
36 pages

This study examined the theoretical links between socioeconomic status and violent delinquency.


Hypotheses drew on work on social structure and personality and learning theories of crime and delinquency. Data from the National Youth Survey were used. This is a longitudinal study of self-reported delinquency in a national probability sample of youths 11 to 17 years old in 1976. The analyses for this study used the first three annual waves of data for the 918 male respondents in the sample. The findings show that violent delinquency can be explained by the confluence of socioeconomic and cultural factors in a dynamic social process. The socioeconomic status (SES) of families had a modest but significant total effect on violent delinquency, which can be explained by the learning process examined. Specifically, lower- SES youth were more likely than higher-SES youth to engage in violent delinquency, because they have learned definitions favorable to violence through interactions with parents and peers. Parents of lower-SES were more likely to use power- assertive discipline, which increased the chances that their sons accepted definitions favorable to using force, coercion, and even violence to solve problems. Parents who used power-assertive discipline were also more likely to raise sons who selected aggressive friends, who further taught and reinforced violent definitions. Further, parent of lower-SES were less likely to monitor their sons' friendships closely, which increased the chances that boys associated with aggressive peers. Finally, coming from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background directly increased the chances that youths would have violent histories, which in turn encouraged the learning of violent definitions and violent delinquency in the future. 2 tables, 2 figures, 8 notes, 109 references, and appended methodological information

Date Published: January 1, 1997