Social Context, Strain, and Delinquency: An Examination of Conditioning Effects Within

Ryan E. Spohn, University of Iowa

This paper addresses a central theoretical issue for strain theories: Under what conditions do strained individuals resort to delinquency or crime? Within the framework of general strain theory, Agnew (2002) suggests that a number of factors condition the effect of strain on delinquency. This theory suggests that higher levels of strain in one's social context, such as experiencing poverty, should exacerbate the criminogenic influence of more immediate sources of strain such as experiencing child abusive parenting or the death of a family member. In contrast, research on children's exposure to violence provides evidence that a stressful environment might actually produce a resilience within children and adolescents that "shields" or even "numbs" them to the effect of more immediate stressful events (see Greer Litton Fox, 2000). The current research addresses these contradictory perspectives through an examination of the conditioning effect of parental income and levels of violence in one's community on the relationship between strain (in the form of abusive parenting and other life stressors) and delinquency within a nationally representative sample of adolescents. Parental income is found to have the most substantial conditioning effect on the strain-delinquency relationship, and the "resilience" hypothesis receives the greatest amount of empirical support.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006