Race and General Strain Theory

Arnold Alexander, The Pennsylvania State University
Thomas J. Bernard, Pennsylvania State University

In his general strain theory, Agnew (1992) has stated that there may be group differences in the types of negative relations that give rise to delinquency. In addition, Mazerolle and Piquero (1998) have stated that there is insufficient knowledge about the ability of general strain theory to explain variations in delinquency across gender, age, and ethnicity. In this paper, we therefore examine the relationship between race and general strain theory using National Youth Survey data. Our focus is on group differences in delinquency rates, rather than on individual differences. In particular, we examine whether certain structural factors mediate the group effects of strain on delinquency. Agnew (1999) argues that several community characteristics, such as severe economic deprivation, contribute to strain and thus to delinquency, since youths in these communities relieve strain by gravitating toward delinquency. We examine the importance of these structural characteristics in explaining group differences in strain, and thus group differences in delinquency, for African-American and European-American youth.

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Updated 05/20/2006