Strain and Opportunity Structures

John P. Hoffmann, Brigham Young University
Timothy O. Ireland, Niagara University

Classic depictions of strain theory posit a conditional pathway to delinquency that depends on opportunity structures. Cloward and Ohlin, for example, proposed that strain led to delinquent behavior in the presence of illegitimate opportunity structures, such as proximate gang activity. In the absence of illegitimate opportunities, strain presumably leads to other adaptations such as withdrawl or low school achievement. In this paper, we revist this classic delineation of the path from strain to delinquency using linked school- and individual-level data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS) and a survey of high school students in Utah. The outcome variables include delinquency, self-concept, and academic achievement. Strain is operationalized at the individual level, while opportunity structures are measured at the school level. A multilevel statistical model provides an explicit test of whether the impact of strain on delinquency and other outcomes is conditioned by opportunities provided by the school context. The results indicate modest support for the proposed relationships, yet also show the importance of the school context as an opportunity structure

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Updated 05/20/2006