Strangers in the Halls: Isolation and Delinquency in School Networks

Derek Kreager, University of Washington - Seattle

The relationship between an individual's delinquency and the delinquency of his or her friends is one of the strongest correlations in criminological research. However, the mechanisms underlying this relation remain elusive. The current study seeks to broaden our understanding of the peer-delinquency association by exploring the behavior of adolescents isolated from school friendship networks. It tests competing hypotheses derived from learning and social control theories of delinquency relevant for isolated students. In addition, the study builds on developmental research of marginal children to examine potential interaction effects between peer isolation and problematic encounters with others at school. Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health allow for the identification of an isolated population and testing of the above propositions. Results suggest that, contrary to the expectations of social control theory, peer isolation does not increase future delinquency. However, problematic peer relations, particularly in conjunction with peer isolation, substantially increase the likelihood of delinquent outcomes. These findings are consistent with expectations from symbolic interactionism and general strain theory, with additional analyses failing to reject the learning theory hypothesis that delinquent peers provide an important mechanism for delinquent behavior.

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Updated 05/20/2006