General Strain Theory: An Empirical Examination Using the Rochester Youth Development Study

Timothy O. Ireland, Niagara University
Terence P. Thornberry, University at Albany

Agnew's general strain theory reconceptualized early iterations of the strain perspective by generalizing strain to include negative relations with others rather than just strain arising from striving for unattainable, but culturally mandated goals. The types of strain derived from general strain theory include a broad assortment of events and situations that are classified into: (a) blockage of positively valued goals, (b) presence of negative stimuli, and (c) loss of positively valued stimuli. Although the initial statements of Agnew's theory have received some empirical support, the theory continues to develop and evolve. Agnew recently made more contemporary statements on general strain theory to clarify categories of strain and to discuss which strains are most likely to covary with delinquency. Using data from the Rochester Youth Development Study, the relationship between several different dimensions of general strain and delinquency are explored. The Rochester project is an ongoing longitudinal investigation of a representative community sample of adolescents. Measures of strain available in the Rochester project include not only more traditional disjunction scores, but also measures of aversive family, neighborhood, and school environments, as well as a series of negative life events. Preliminary bivariate analyses indicate that each of these dimensions of strain is related to subsequent self-reported delinquency in late adolescence.

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Updated 05/20/2006