Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Community Context, Social Integration into Family, and Youth Violence

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Community Context, Social Integration into Family, and Youth Violence

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study is to analyze the extent to which neighborhood-level family structure and feelings of family integration are associated with acts of violence among 16,910 adolescents from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The results from our hierarchical linear models indicate that adolescents who live in neighborhoods with lower proportions of single-parent families and who report higher levels of family integration commit less violence. We also find that neighborhood-level family structure shapes the extent to which social integration into family matters: In neighborhoods that are considered higher risk environments (i.e., contain greater proportions of single-parent families), family integration is often less effective in deterring youth violence than it is in lower risk environments.

Key Words: neighborhood effects, parent-child relationships, social integration, youth violence.

Many family scholars have analyzed the influence of family structure on children's outcomes. Generally, this work compares the outcomes of children who grow up in stable two-parent families with children who grow up in other family structures. The emphasis is on how an individual's family structure affects life experiences (Demo & Cox, 2000). Yet, a growing body of work considers the importance of family structure at the neighborhood level as well (Krivo & Peterson, 1996; Sampson, 1987; Sampson & Groves, 1989). This line of research considers how living in a neighborhood with many single-parent families differs from living in a neighborhood comprised of mostly two-parent households.

Conceptualizing family structure at both the individual and neighborhood levels is important because both individual-level family structure and neighborhood-level family structure are thought to affect youth violence. Various theories have been used to address these linkages. Social control theories offer predictions about why individual family structures (Nye, 1958; Simons, Simons, & Wallace, 2004) and family bonds (Hirschi, 1969; Simons et al.) are associated with the risk of an adolescent committing violence. Social disorganization theory suggests that family structure at the neighborhood level also affects youth violence (Krivo & Peterson, 1996; Sampson, 1987). In the present study, we integrate these perspectives into a conceptual framework that offers predictions about how family structure and social integration at the individual and neighborhood levels influence an adolescent's risk of committing violence.

Specifically, the focus of this study is to analyze the extent to which family structure at the neighborhood level and feelings of integration into family at the individual level affect youth violence. First, we assess the effect of neighborhood-level family structure on an adolescent's risk of engaging in violence. We examine whether neighborhood-level family structure predicts youth violence both before and after accounting for the effects of individual-level family structure. Second, we group families according to adolescents' reports of the number of resident and nonresident parents in their family. Then, we use measures of social integration into family to predict self-reports of youth violence. Self-reports of delinquent behavior are commonly used in scholarly research and complement statistics from police, court, and other institutional sources. Although self-reports of violent offenses have not been used as frequently as self-reports of other forms of crime, there appears to be a good deal of consistency between survey and official data on violent offenses (Jensen & Rojek, 1998). We use adolescents' reports of closeness, involvement, and communication with their parents as measures of their social integration into family. Finally, we analyze whether the influence of neighborhood-level family structure determines the extent to which social integration into family predicts youth violence. …

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