Predicting Juvenile Delinquency Using Socioeconomic and Family Status Variables


Shayna Sortore


St. Bonaventure University

































The purpose of this study was to examine a relationship between traditional and non-traditional families (family status), socioeconomic status (SES), and juvenile delinquency. One hundred fifty families in Cattaraugus County participated in this study. The current study utilized assessments from Kierkus and Baer (2003) to measure juvenile delinquency and socioeconomic status. Family Status was measured by self-report. A 2x2 ANOVA (SES x Family) was used to analyze the data. The current study predicted a main effect for family status and SES and an interaction between family status and SES. Results remained consistent with previous research.






















Predicting Juvenile Delinquency Using Socioeconomic and  Family Status Variables


            Juvenile delinquency is a widely studied topic. An abundance of research has been conducted, however the results remain inconsistent (Putnins, 1984; Dishion & Loeber, 1985; Barnes & Farrell, 1992; Thomas & Farrell, 1996; Coughlin & Vuchinich, 1996; Keirkus & Baer, 2003). Research ranges from favoring a family structure interaction with truancy (Keirkus & Baer, 2003) to community impact on deviant acts (Kohen, Brooks-Gunn, Leventhal, and Hertzman; 2002). Regardless of the diversity of findings, much research mentions the combined impact of gender, ethnicity, SES, age, demographics, and race (Putnins, 1984; Dishion & Loeber, 1985; Barnes & Farrell, 1992; Thomas & Farrell, 1996; Coughlin & Vuchinich, 1996; Keirkus & Baer, 2003; Keirkus & Baer, 2003; & Kohen et al, 2003).

Coughlin and Vuchinich (1996) found the risk of arrests’ by age 14 more than doubled for males from single-parent households. Thomas and Farrell (1996) found a difference between race and acts committed. White males with a non-traditional family, specifically headed by the mother without a non-residential male support, produced the highest count of juvenile delinquent acts compared to blacks. Blacks actually produced the exact opposite results; they acted out negatively when there was a non-residential male support. Socioeconomic status was also mentioned as an extraneous variable for the white males in the study.

Other findings vary with results stating no relationship between family status (among others) and juvenile delinquency. Girls tended to act out as a result of low levels of support from their mothers, while boys tended to act out as a result of low parental monitoring. However, the study concludes stating that family structure is not a predictor of juvenile delinquency (Barnes & Farrell, 1992). Although it may not be a predictor of juvenile delinquency, low parental monitoring did seem to predict higher drug use (Dishion & Loeber, 1985).

While previous research has been thorough in evaluating variables as possible predictors for juvenile delinquency, results are so mixed the problem remains in question. Since extraneous variables are so prevalent in most studies, it is difficult to isolate a few variables for testing. The current study seeks to separate two specific variables to determine an interaction between SES and family status and possibly a main effect for SES and family status in producing juvenile delinquency.

Based on the broken homes hypothesis which states that children raised by both biological parents are less likely to become involved in delinquency than children of non-traditional families (Keirkus & Baer, 2003), the current study predicts a significant difference in number of acts committed by juvenile delinquents in traditional and non-traditional families such that juveniles living in traditional homes will be less likely than those living in non-traditional homes, to commit delinquent acts. Secondly, contrary to other predictions (Keirkus & Baer, 2003), Socioeconomic Status is also expected to play a role such that non-traditional families of low SES will accrue the highest number of acts as compared to traditional high SES family’s and non-traditional families of high SES. Although previous research actually supports higher levels of truancy as a result of familial disruption in high SES families (Keirkus & Baer, 2003), the present study hypothesized the opposite based on findings that state low SES non-traditional families based on less supervision and monitoring will produce higher counts of juvenile delinquency. Briefly, the current study predicts using a 2x2 factorial design (SESxFamily Status) that non-traditional families of low SES would account for the highest number of juvenile delinquent acts. The current study expects juvenile delinquency to depend on the level of SES and Family status, specifically low SES and non-traditional families to produce the highest counts of juvenile delinquent acts. Therefore, a main effect for family status and SES and an interaction between status and SES are predicted.




            One hundred and fifty families  (80 non-traditional families and 70 traditional families) residing in Cattaraugus County participated in this study. Each family had children ranging from 12-17 years of age (M= 16). Participants were randomly selected.


            A Delinquency Questionnaire was used to measure the counts of delinquency in each household (Kierkus and Baer, 2003). Participants were asked how many times they have participated in the following in the past year:

Socioeconomic status was measured on a 5 point Likert scale (Adlaf and Ivis, 1997; Gore, Asehine, and Colton, 1992; and Kierkus and Baer, 2003). The scale consisted of one question asking: “How would you describe your family’s situation?” The participants had the choice of a 1= well above average ranging to a 5 = well below average.

Also included on the socioeconomic status assessment was one question at the end, asking if the family was traditional or non-traditional to measure family status. It was clearly stated that a traditional family consisted of both biological parents and a non-traditional family was any other arrangement.


Families were randomly selected and asked to participate if they lived in Cattaraugus County. Participants signed a consent form. Youth were then asked to fill out the delinquency questionnaire while their parent(s) filled out the socioeconomic status scale and family status question.

            Families were divided into two groups: Traditional (both biological parents present) and non-traditional (one-parent household, step parent households, widowed, or family members filling the parental role). Families were also divided into two groups of socioeconomic status: based on their results, participants who answered the family status question by rating themselves a four or five were determined low SES, while participants who answered with a one, two, or three were designated to the high SES group. The study acknowledges although the participants may have answered a three meaning they would usually be considered middle class, however for the purpose of this study, they were assigned to the high SES status. 


The study was conducted using a 2x2 factorial (family status x income level) with a between subject ANOVA. As predicted, low SES non-traditional families averaged the highest counts of juvenile delinquency (M= 100.93) while high SES traditional families averaged the least (M= 26). Low SES traditional families still ranked higher (M= 57.6) than high SES non-traditional families (M= 36.6) (Refer to Table 1 for means).

Main effects were produced by family status F (1, 56) = 30.034, p< .000 and SES F (1, 56) = 100.492, p< .000 (Refer to Figure 1). As you can also see in Figure 1, families of low SES and non-traditional families produced the highest number of juvenile delinquencies compared to families of high SES and traditional families. Traditional families also produced fewer counts of juvenile delinquencies as compared to the non-traditional families of the same SES. Also remaining consistent with the hypothesis, an interaction between SES and family status was found as well F (1, 56) = 11.088, p< .0002 (Refer to Figure 1). From this, the current study concludes that juvenile delinquency may depend on an interaction between family status and SES such that the best predictors for juvenile delinquency are non-traditional families of low SES.


The current study predicted non-traditional families would obtain the highest count of juvenile delinquent acts in the past year compared to traditional families. Secondly, it is also predicted that level of SES would also factor in; particularly non-traditional families of low SES would produce the highest average juvenile delinquent acts over the past year. A main effect for SES and family status and an interaction between SES and family status was also expected.

The current research remained fairly consistent with the predictions. There seems to be a direct effect of SES and family status on juvenile delinquency such that low SES and non-traditional families seem to be predictors. Since there is a main effect and an interaction, it is now concluded that one variable may depend on the other. It is possible in this study that family status depends on SES, meaning families with low SES are more likely to become non-traditional because of the stresses attributed to low income and living arrangements.

Results remain consistent with those found from Coughlin and Vuchinich (1996) who found the number of arrests of males doubled in single parent households and also partially agree with results derived from Thomas and Farrell (1996) who found white males of low SES tended to act out more as a result of a single-parent household with a non-residential male support. Although some previous research supports the current study, results are bias in that only males were tested, or race differences were acknowledged as factors that create biases.  

Although Barnes and Farrell, (1992) concluded that family status was not a predictor of juvenile delinquency, they did conclude with research stating that low parental monitoring did influence boys and low motherly support influenced girls. It only seems natural that some non-traditional families (i.e. single-mother, single-father, or one run by grandparents or other family members) would struggle to provide adequate monitoring while trying to financially support their family.

The present study acknowledges that many factors were not taken into account such as gender (of the juveniles), race, ethnicity, demographics, and peers. Future research could attempt to isolate a few of these variables at a time as this study did to find more stable answers as to the influences of juvenile delinquency. Also, location of school and structure of classroom could also be factors that may influence. A final suggestion is with this new data, future studies could focus on positive interventions for families of divorce. For children of low SES, communities and schools could look into wider varieties of after-school programs meeting a wide range of hobbies to keep students busy for longer periods of time leaving them less likely to be committing juvenile delinquent acts due to lack of parental monitoring. 











Barnes, G. M. & Farrell, M. P. (1992). Parental support and control as predictors of adolescent drinking, delinquency, and related problem behaviors. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 54, 763- 777.

Coughlin, C. & Vuchinich, S. (1996). Family experience in preadolescence and the development of male delinquency. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 58, 491-502.  Putnins, A.L. (1984). Family Structure and Juvenile Recidivism. Family Therapy. 11, 61-64.

Dishion, T. & Loeber, R. (1985). Adolescent marijuana and alcohol use: The role of parents and peers revisited. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. 11, 11-25.

Kierkus, C.A. & Baer, D. (2003). Does the relationship between family structure and delinquency vary according to circumstances? An investigation of interaction effects. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice. 405-429.

Schulenberg, J. L. (2003). The social context of police discretion with youth offenders: An ecological analysis. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice. 45, 127-158.  

 Thomas, G. & Farrell, M.P. (1996). The effects of single-mother families and nonresident fathers on delinquency and substance abuse in black and white adolescents. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 58, 884- 895.





Table 1 Means for Juvenile Delinquency of Traditional and Non-Traditional Families of high and low SES






































Figure Caption

Figure 1. Mean for SES and Family Status and an interaction between SES and Family Status.