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Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adolescent Gang Membership: Utilizing Latent Class Analysis to Understand the Relationship

NCJ Number
Hannah J. Klein
Date Published
August 2020
165 pages

This dissertation uses longitudinal data from the Pittsburgh Youth Study (PYS) to inform the relationship between early life events and later gang membership and presents findings that can inform policy and practice around gang prevention and intervention by pinpointing constellations of risk factors.


In this dissertation, the author analyzes various risk factors and their implications for youth who join gangs versus those who do not, through the use of longitudinal data from the Pittsburgh Youth Study (PYS). The author compared the count of total adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in youth that joined gangs to those that did not, followed by performing a latent class analysis to create groupings of ACEs to determine if particular classes of adverse events were associated with higher odds of gang membership during later adolescence. Using the longitudinal data structure of the PYS, additional latent classes were developed when breaking up the adversity into separate age ranges, and then these age-graded categories were added into the latent class model to determine if age-specific adversity increased the odds of gang membership. Covariates were then added into the gang model to test if time-stable elements increased the odds of belonging to one of the classes identified in the initial latent class analysis. The author’s research results showed that, on average, gang-involved youth have significantly more childhood adversity than nongang involved youth; there was no significant difference between the two classes that had higher odds of adversity; there were mixed findings on the impact of age-specific adversity; and early school achievement plays a large role in predicting class membership, while familial financial strain does not.