Delinquency And The Structure Of Adolescent Peer Groups

Derek A. Kreager, Kelly Rulison, James Moody

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Gangs and group-level processes were once central phenomena for criminological theory and research. By the mid-1970s, however, gang research primarily was displaced by studies of individual behavior using randomized self-report surveys, a shift that also removed groups from the theoretical foreground. In this project, we return to the group level to test competing theoretical claims about delinquent group structure. We use network-based clustering methods to identify 897 friendship groups in two ninth-grade cohorts of 27 Pennsylvania and Iowa schools. We then relate group-level measures of delinquency and drinking to network measures of group size, friendship reciprocity, transitivity, structural cohesion, stability, average popularity, and network centrality. We find significant negative correlations between group delinquency and all of our network measures, suggesting that delinquent groups are less solidary and less central to school networks than nondelinquent groups. Additional analyses, on the one hand, reveal that these correlations are explained primarily by other group characteristics, such as gender composition and socioeconomic status. Drinking behaviors, on the other hand, show net positive associations with most of the network measures, suggesting that drinking groups have a higher status and are more internally cohesive than nondrinking groups. Our findings shed light on a long-standing criminological debate by suggesting that any structural differences between delinquent and nondelinquent groups are likely attributable to other characteristics coincidental with delinquency. In contrast, drinking groups seem to provide peer contexts of greater social capital and cohesion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-127
Number of pages33
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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