Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Personal and Anticipated Strain among Youth: A Longitudinal Analysis of Delinquency

Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Personal and Anticipated Strain among Youth: A Longitudinal Analysis of Delinquency

Article excerpt


The causes and correlates of juvenile delinquency continue to be an important research topic as analytic techniques have become more sophisticated and relevant data bases have been more extensively mined. Among the most commonly cited predictors of delinquent behavior are involvement with delinquent peers (Keijsers et al., 2012; Knecht, Snijders, Baerveldt, Steglich, & Raub, 2010), family instability (Church, Tomek, et al., 2012; Church, Wharton, & Taylor, 2009; Farrington, Jolliffe, Loeber, Stouthamer-Loeber, & Kalb, 2001; Loeber & Farrington, 2000), poverty (Church, Jaggers, & Taylor, 2012; Jarjoura, Triplett, & Brinker, 2002), and strain (Agnew, 2001).

General strain theory posits that the inability to achieve culturally defined norms and expectations, often because access to the means to achieve such goals has been blocked, results in strain (Agnew, 2001; 1999; 1992). Agnew (1992) described several types of strain, including personal or experienced strain and anticipated strain (1992). Personal strain refers to personal experiences with any of the three major types of strain: loss of positive stimuli, presentation of negative stimuli, and goal blockage (Agnew, 2002).

Anticipated strain refers to the individual's expectation that current strains will continue or that new strains will occur (Agnew, 1992). To alleviate strain, Agnew believed that individuals engage in delinquent acts to achieve goals that they cannot attain, or believe they cannot attain, through conventional means.

Although there is theoretical and empirical support for the relationship between strain and delinquency, and among other factors that affect delinquency-such as delinquent peers, family instability, and poverty-much of the support for the effects of strain on delinquency comes from research that focuses exclusively on personal strain. Personal strain and anticipated strain that are likely to result in deviant behavior have been recognized as distinct and different forces that may result in differential outcomes (Agnew, 1992; Baron, 2009; Froggio, 2007). Both personal strain and anticipated strain can lead to delinquency (Agnew, 2002; Baron, 2009; Froggio, 2007). In the current study, we used longitudinal data from the Mobile Youth Survey (K. Bolland et al., 2013) to explore the effects of personal strain and anticipated strain on delinquent behavior in a sample of adolescent males and females living in extreme poverty. We included several factors that have been suggested to influence strain: expectations, peer influence, and school connectedness. Specifically, this study fills a gap in the literature by examining personal and anticipated strain concurrently, based on the model shown in Figure 1.

General Strain Theory

In his seminal work, Merton (1968) defined strain as the difference between culturally and socially defined expectations on the one hand, and the means to achieve those expectations on the other. Fie explained that deviant behavior is primarily the result of financial strains experienced by individuals who do not have the means to achieve culturally and socially defined expectations. Working from Merton's premise, Agnew (1985) developed a revision of strain theory, which led to the development of his own general strain theory (Agnew, 1992), focusing more on norms and environmental context and less on culture and class. Agnew posited that strain results from (a) an individual's actual or anticipated failure to achieve a positively valued goal, (b) the removal of a positive stimulus from an individual, or (c) the presentation of a negative stimulus to an individual.

Strain theorists believe that an individual's inability to escape from negative situations or stimuli or to achieve socially defined expectations using conventional methods can result in deviant behavior (Agnew, 2002; Higgins, Piquero, & Piquero, 2011; Piquero & Sealock, 2010). Since strain is a common occurrence without noticeable undue consequences, Agnew (2001) advanced four characteristics of strain that are likely to result in criminal behavior. …

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