Using merged data from the 1996, 1997, and 1998 National Youth Gang Surveys and matching the combined National Youth Gang Surveys with demographic data from the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, this study provides a comparative analysis of social, economic, and demographic differences among nonmetropolitan jurisdictions in which gangs were reported to have been persistent problems, those in which gangs had been more transitory, and those that reported no gang problems.
Drawing both on the urban models of gang delinquency and on popular accounts of gangs in rural areas, the study organized 23 county-contextual variables into four conceptual groups: ecological, economic deprivation/marginalization, population composition, and social diffusion. Initially, the study focused on the relevance of these variables for explaining gangs by using bivariate comparisons to identify the indicators most strongly associated with gang reports and to examine the form of their associations. These bivariate results were supplemented with multivariate analyses to assess the redundancies among the indicators. The analysis suggests that the most consistent indicators of a gang presence in nonmetropolitan counties are those that reflect social stability and the composition of the population. Economic stability was not associated with gangs; measures of economic deprivation were mixed and were not consistently in the predicted direction. There was only modest support for arguments that urban gangs spread into rural areas through diffusion. Thus, the findings suggest that models of rural gang development should place greater emphasis on social and demographic factors than on economic issues. 7 tables and 62 references