Explaining the educational deficits of delinquent youths

Sonja E. Siennick, Jeremy Staff

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Why do delinquent youths complete less education than do their conventional peers? Theory and research in criminology and in the sociology of education suggest that two aspects of youths' commitment to education, their future goals and their behavioral investments in those goals, may explain the delinquency-education relationship, but only when considered jointly. Using panel data from the National Education Longitudinal Study, we find that educational expectations and school effort together explain delinquents' lower rates of college attendance and graduation, but of these two factors, effort provides the more powerful explanation. We also find that transcript grades explain more of the delinquency-education relationship than do self-reported grades, which indicates that delinquent youths may not know exactly how they are performing in school. Our findings suggest that the aspirational and behavioral components of commitment to education are only loosely coupled, and that delinquent youths may not understand how their behavior can jeopardize their goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-635
Number of pages27
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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