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Examination of the 'Marriage Effect' on Desistance From Crime Among U.S. Immigrants

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2013
81 pages
This study integrated research on immigration, marriage and family, and crime, in order to identify factors that influence patterns of criminal offending among the children of immigrants as they become young adults.
The findings show similarities and differences between immigrant generations regarding marriage patterns and offending. There were two key findings. First, counter to expectations of a decline in the marriage rate for the second generation of immigrants, the study found that second-generation immigrants marry at rates comparable to their White, Hispanic, and first-generation immigrant peers. Second, consistent with previous research, the study found that marriage is negatively related to crime for both first- and second-generation immigrants; however, this "marriage effect" is particularly strong for the second generation of immigrant families. Thus, consistent with previous criminological research on the marriage effect among the native-born, the results of this study show that being married fosters desistance from crime for both first-generation and second-generation immigrants. This suggests that efforts to preserve and promote family connections among immigrants and within immigrant communities should be at the forefront of immigration policy reform. Policies that result in deportation and the dissolution of immigrant families may fuel crime rates among second-generation immigrant children. The study used 13 waves of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97), which is a representative survey of people living in the United States who were 12 to 16 years old during the initial round of data collection in 1997. Youth complete a self-administered questionnaire that collects information on sensitive topics such as crime/delinquency, arrest, and substance use. The dataset also includes information on family dynamics, structural factors, and individual characteristics. Of the youth surveyed in the first wave, there were 590 first-generation immigrants and 998 second-generation immigrants. 10 tables and 90 references

Date Published: March 1, 2013