Hispanic Youth & Delinquency: A Longitudinal Examination of Generational Status, Family Processes, & Neighborhood Context

Danielle Soto, Bowling Green State University


Current examinations of racial/ethnic differences in delinquency largely treat Hispanics as a monolithic group, with little attention given to differences among Hispanic subgroups. Given that Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the United States, and are also the largest immigrant group in the country, examinations of generational status and delinquency appear rather neglected. Informed by segmented assimilation theory and strain theory, the current study uses the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health data to examine racial/ethnic differences in delinquent and violent offending, with particular attention paid to generational status. A subsample consisting solely of Hispanics is also examined in order to further explore differences among Hispanic groups based on generational status.

Initial results show that Hispanics do indeed report higher levels of involvement in both delinquency and violence, but further investigation shows that this is almost entirely driven by the second and third generations, with first-generation Hispanics reporting scores either statistically similar to those of whites, or scores significantly lower than those of whites. Family functioning and processes and neighborhood context are both explored as possible mediators of this relationship between Hispanic ethnicity and offending.

The current study finds that while neighborhood context does not appear to explain the gaps in offending between whites and Hispanic generational groups (or between Hispanic generational groups themselves), these measures do help to explain offending overall. Family processes, on the other hand, explain a significant proportion of these gaps in offending. Furthermore, these factors, especially permissive parenting and family integration, help to explain much of the effect of gang membership on offending, a factor previously identified as particularly salient in explaining Hispanic offending.

Another important finding is that the effect of being bilingual, hypothesized as a potential protective factor by segmented assimilation theory, depends on age. Initial cross-sectional examinations of the effects of being bilingual on offending do show a protective effect, but later longitudinal analyses reveal that while this is the case in adolescence and the teen years, once respondents enter their early 20s, being bilingual is associated with increases in offending.