Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


Within-Individual Differences in Offending from Adolescence to Young Adulthood: A Modified Theoretical Approach to Understanding Academic Achievement and Delinquency

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Jorge Chavez (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Alfred DeMaris (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Stephen Demuth (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Danielle Kuhl (Committee Member)


Motivated by General Strain Theory (GST), the project examines school strains and their effects on offending from adolescence to young adulthood. The project develops an extensive GST model, testing multiple measures of school strain (controlling for strains from multiple domains), coping mechanisms, and negative emotionality. I expand the traditional GST framework by adding measures of subjective meaning to the interpretation of strain. While the concept of subjective meaning has been suggested previously (Agnew, 1992; Cohen, 1955), I draw on psychological theories and suggestions by Agnew (1992) about understanding the perception of strain, to address critiques that the individual context in which the strain is experienced is not accounted for in existing empirical work on school strain and delinquency (Sander, Sharkey, Fisher, Bates, and Herren, 2011). To that end, the project uses three waves of data from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), which followed a cohort of students into adulthood. This study contributes to scholarship by examining gender differences in the relationship between school strains and offending over time, comparing multiple measures of school strain, and including measures of subjective meaning. Linear mixed-effects modeling is used to estimate relationships between school strain and offending, for male and female subsamples in order to identify gender differences in the ways school strains, subjective meaning, other strains, coping mechanisms, and negative emotionality affect offending. I utilize a GST framework to explain the results from the analysis. Findings revealed that while some school strains were positively related to offending trajectories, the subjective meaning of those strains made a difference in their consequences, either increasing or decreasing levels of offending, even when controlling for multiple forms of strain. Further, while some coping skills and mechanisms decreased the estimated level of offending trajectory, religiosity unexpectedly increased the estimated level of offending in females. The most significant finding from this study was the strong impact of school strains and the subjective meaning of strain on the level of offending over time.