Academic journal article Western Criminology Review

Delinquent Friends and Reactions to Strain: An Examination of Direct and Indirect Pathways

Academic journal article Western Criminology Review

Delinquent Friends and Reactions to Strain: An Examination of Direct and Indirect Pathways

Article excerpt

Abstract: Strain theorists acknowledge that only some strained individuals become involved in delinquency. Thus, a necessary research objective is to determine the conditions under which strain results in deviant adaptations. The goal of this research is to examine the conditioning effects of exposure to delinquent friends/peer pressure on the relationship between strain and delinquency. Whereas Agnew (1992, 2001, 2006) argues that a criminogenic environment will increase the effect of strain on delinquency, Warr's (1993) research indicates that other correlates of delinquency lose their influence when adolescents are enmeshed in a network of delinquent peers. In testing these competing hypotheses, the current research finds a preponderance of evidence supporting the latter position. Peer pressure and having friends that commit delinquency tend to reduce the direct effect of strain on serious delinquency, as well as reducing the indirect effects of strain on negative emotions and negative emotions on serious delinquency.

Keywords: abuse, anomie theory, delinquent friends, and general strain theory.


Exposure to delinquent friends and peers is consistently found to be a strong correlate of adolescent delinquency (see Warr 2002 for a review). Moreover, the impact of delinquent peers and friends, concepts generally associated with differential association, social learning, and subculture theories of delinquency, has for decades served as an issue of contention within the field of criminology in debates on the theoretical supremacy on control theories.1 However, simply examining the additive effect of central variables from various theories of delinquency, such as peer delinquency, represents an overly simplistic attempt to model a reality that is rarely additive in form. Rather, the social context and causes of juvenile delinquency are almost certain to involve the interaction of variables from multiple sociological theories of delinquency. Consequently, it is likely that delinquent friends and peers, in addition to their strong main effect on delinquency, also exert a conditioning effect within the context of criminological theories which do not include these measures as primary theoretical variables (for example, see Agnew 1991).

The current research represents an effort to increase our theoretical knowledge of the conditioning role of delinquent friends within the framework of Agnew's General Strain Theory (GST). In his theoretical development and empirical tests of GST, Agnew (2001, 2006) suggests that the social environment of adolescents in general will influence whether they react to strain in a delinquent fashion. Regarding delinquent peers and friends specifically, he predicts that associations with criminal others will increase the likelihood of coping with strain in a criminal fashion, primarily because delinquent peers/friends are empirically associated with beliefs favorable to crime "that define crime as a desirable, justifiable, or excusable response to strains" (Agnew 2006:101).

A number of studies empirically examine the conditioning effect of delinquent peers on the relationship between strain and delinquency, but results are mixed and theoretical conclusions remain elusive. Moreover, although Agnew (1992) argues that strain has a substantial indirect effect on delinquency via its impact on negative emotions, empirical and theoretical attention is sorely lacking regarding the conditioning effect of delinquent peers on these indirect pathways. Consequently, a primary goal of the current research project is to more thoroughly and explicitly develop our theoretical understanding of the conditioning effect of peer deviance on the direct and indirect effects of strain on serious delinquency. Towards this goal, theoretically derived hypotheses are empirically tested on a nationally representative sample of adolescents.


Within the anomie/strain perspective made popular by Merton (1938), strain is viewed as the blockage of goal-seeking behavior. …

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