School Networks, (Best) Friends, and Youth Groups: Who Contributes to Peer Similarity in Delinquent Behavior?

Frank M. Weerman, NSCR
Wilma H. Smeenk, NSCR

It is widely accepted that delinquent youth have relationships with each other: this is referred to as peer similarity in delinquent behavior. However, there are many forms of peer relationships: classmates, friends, best friends, youth groups/gangs, and all of these peers may differ in their level of delinquency. Although not explicit, control/bonding theories predict most similarity with intimate friends, while social learning theories predict most possibilities for learning and reinforcement in larger peer groups. Additionally, Moffitt's dual taxonomy theory predict that 'life-time persistent' delinquents attract a circle of youngsters who become 'adolescent-limited' offenders themselves. In this paper, we answer the question which peers contribute to similarity in delinquent behavior by analyzing school and friendship networks of adolescents. We are conducting a longitudinal survey in which we map the school networks of about 1500 respondents in the age of 12-15. We also establish pre-school delinquency of respondents and ask about the behavior of friends, best friends and members of youth groups. Untill now, information about these different types of relationships has never been combined in one study. In the paper, we will present results of the first survey wave.

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Updated 05/20/2006