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Explaining the Educational Deficits of Delinquent Youths

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 46 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2008 Pages: 609-636
Sonja E. Siennick; Jeremy Staff
Date Published
August 2008
28 pages
This article examines the relationship between delinquency and completion of education.
The results show that educational expectations and school effort together explain delinquents' lower rates of college attendance and graduation, but of these two factors, effort provided the more powerful explanation. It also found that transcript grades explained more of the delinquency-education relationship than did self-reported grades, which indicated that delinquent youths might not know exactly how they have been performing in school. The article seeks to explain why delinquent youths complete less education than do their conventional peers, and notes that theory and research in criminology and in the sociology of education suggest that two aspects of youths' commitment to education, their future goals and their behavioral investments in those goals, may explain the delinquency-education relationship, but only when considered jointly. The findings suggest that the aspirational and behavioral components of commitment to education were only loosely coupled, and that delinquent youths may not understand how their behavior can jeopardize their goals. The findings were derived using panel data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS), which employed a two-stage stratified sampling design to select a nationally representative sample of eighth graders during the spring of 1988. In the first stage, 1,057 schools were selected from a specified sampling frame, and the second stage consisted of over 24,000 students from these schools who completed base year surveys. Three follow-ups were conducted, the last in 2000, and the final sample size was 10,310. Tables, references, and appendix