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Multisite Examination of Youth Gang Membership: Does Gender Matter?

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 36 Issue: 4 Dated: November 1998 Pages: 799-828
Date Published
30 pages

This research determined gang membership in a general survey of eighth-grade students in a cross-section of the United States and examined differences between boys' and girls' attitudes associated with gang membership.


The study was part of a larger evaluation of the Gang Resistance Education and Training program (G.R.E.A.T.). As such, evaluation objectives dictated many of the design elements, including site selection and sampling procedures. One component of the evaluation was a multisite, multistate cross-sectional survey of eighth-grade students conducted during the spring of 1995. Within each of 11 sites, schools that offered G.R.E.A.T during the prior 2 years were selected. Group-administered questionnaires were administered to all eighth graders in attendance on the specified day. Demographic, attitudinal, and behavioral measures were obtained from students who completed the self-administered questionnaires. Attitudinal measures used were representative of social learning theory and social control theory. Gang membership was determined through self- identification. The finding that delinquent gang members were present in all 11 sites suggests that although social structural factors may be associated with gang formation, they are not the exclusive cause of delinquent gangs. The social control model suggests that boys and girls may join gangs for different reasons. Girls with high self-esteem, for example, were less likely to join gangs; whereas, boys with high self-esteem had a greater probability of joining gangs. The effect of social isolation was also different for boys and girls; boys who felt socially isolated were less likely to join gangs, but this variable had no effect on girls. Boys who believed that educational success was unattainable had a higher likelihood of reporting they were gang members; this variable had no effect for girls. Family processes were no more important for females than males. The results refute the media notion that females do not join gangs for the thrill of it. Risk-seeking was a predictor of female gang membership, but not of male gang membership. Impulsivity was not an important factor for either males or females. The social learning model, contrary to the social control model, showed similar relationships for males and females, although the magnitude of the effects varied slightly. The peer variables appeared to be slightly stronger explanatory factors for females than males, and the attitudinal variables (guilt expected from delinquent acts and neutralization of behaviors) were stronger for the males. 4 tables and 77 references

Date Published: January 1, 1998