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Explaining Racial and Ethnic Differences in Serious Adolescent Violent Behavior

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 41 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2003 Pages: 709-748
Thomas L. McNulty; Paul E. Bellair
Robert J. Bursik Jr.
Date Published
August 2003
40 pages
Using a contextual model derived from prior urban developmental and criminological theory, this study attempted to explain racial/ethnic differences in serious adolescent violent behavior.
It is well documented in the United States that racial and ethnic groups are differentially involved in adult and juvenile violence. Yet, despite all the studies, explanation of the race/ethnicity-violence relationship remains controversial and unresolved. To address this issue, this study first compared involvement in serious violence among Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Whites. It then utilized a dependent variable which comprised items indicating very serious violence, such as serious physical fights, threatening people with a knife or gun, aggravated assault with a weapon, or causing injury to others that requires medical attention. Lastly, the study employed a contextual model derived from prior urban developmental and criminological theory and research to view racial/ethnic differences in serious adolescent violence as a function of community level disadvantages and related individual level outcomes. The model was tested using a nationally representative sample of adolescents from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health and matched with block group level data from the U.S. Census. The results show that statistical differences between Whites and minority groups were explained by variation in community disadvantage (for Blacks), involvement in gangs (for Hispanics), social bonds (for Native Americans), and situational variables (for Asians). The lesser involvement in violence among Asians, compared to Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans was accounted for by similar factors. Differences in violent behavior among the latter three minority groups were not significant. Both theoretical and policy implications from the study are presented and discussed. References and appendices 1-2