Can Social Networks Influence Delinquent Behavior Among Youth?

Do social networks influence delinquent youth behavior? A team of researchers at the Urban Institute, in partnership with Temple University, just released a report titled Social Networks, Delinquency, and Gang Membership: Using a Neighborhood Framework to Examine the Influence of Network Composition and Structure in a Latino Community. Caterina G. Roman and Carlena Orosco of Temple University, Meagan Cahill, Pamela Lachman, Samantha Lowry (with Megan Denver and Juan Pedroza) of the Urban Institute, and Christopher McCarty of the University of Florida authored the piece.
The report explores the nature of links which bind youth to groups and their associated social contexts. This study employed a social network framework in order to better understand patterns and relationships between youth in a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Maryland, which is home to a large proportion of high-risk minors. The authors conducted a three-part network survey with 147 youth, with the goal of surveying all youth between the ages of 14 and 21 living in the target neighborhood.

The group extended its network analysis to include different types of relationships (e.g., friend, relative, neighbor), and as such were able to examine multiple research questions that have not yet been addressed in existing delinquency and gang literature.
Key findings:                                              
· Youth are highly connected to people from the neighborhood but that networks with a larger proportion of in-neighborhood relations are not significantly associated with delinquency, violence, or gang membership.
· The more separate groups of relations one has, the more constraint on behavior and, hence, the less likely an individual is to be involved with delinquency.
· Separation from U.S. culture (lower acculturation) was a significant predictor for delinquency (but not gang membership); a youth who was born abroad and remained more closely connected to the Spanish language was less likely to be involved in delinquency.
· Networks with very low densities—as found in the current study—are more successful contexts for intervening. The most appropriate interventions, then, would not rely on pro-social, anti-delinquent messages being spread through the network via well-placed, influential individuals. Rather, more targeted efforts to get individuals involved might be required because the message might not be effectively spread throughout the relatively sparsely connected community
· Central players were not necessarily more violent than peripheral players. In fact, many central players were less violent.
· This study supports the notion that the neighborhood influences behavior, and in this specific case, stronger associations with the neighborhood tend to be associated with higher levels of delinquency.
To view or download this report, please visit: 

    Brooke Preston is an Acting Digital Account Executive at Prichard Communications, where she creates strategies and content for a number of clients including Reclaiming Futures. Brooke is a seasoned writer, editor and content consultant whose background is centered in journalism, nonprofit communications and brand development counsel. Brooke received a B.S.S. in Music and Media Studies from Ohio University. 


Updated: June 06 2012