The Community Context of Family Structure and Delinquency

John P. Hoffmann, Brigham Young University

Numerous studies support the notion that living with fewer than two biological parents increases the risks of delinquency. A number of conceptual models have been proposed to explain these relationships, including several linking family structure to parent-child interaction patterns, family income, and residential mobility. However, few studies have explored whether the different types of communities within which families reside explain the impact of family structure on delinquency. This community context hypothesis also suggests that the relationship between family structure and delinquency is conditioned by community characteristics. The results of a multilevel model that uses data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS) and the 1990 decennial census suggest that community-level variables such as racial segregation, percent female headed households, percent unemployed and out-of-workforce males, and poverty do not attenuate the effects of family structure on delinquency. Adolescents residing in stepparent families are especially likely to be involved in delinquency. Adolescents in communities with high unemployment also tend to be more involved in delinquency. Moreover, involvement in delinquency among adolescents from mother only and father only families is higher in racially segregated communities.

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Updated 05/20/2006