First Advisor

Don C. Gibbons

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Juvenile delinquents -- Family relationships



Physical Description

3, vii, 134 leaves: ill. 28 cm.


American society traditionally has held the family responsible for the socialization and social control of children, and when youngsters get into trouble the causal finger of blame is pointed at the family. No wonder then that a recurrent issue within the study of delinquent behavior has been the precise etiological role of the family. This thesis begins with an historical examination of the different approaches taken in the sociological study of delinquency and the family. This research investigated whether "interactive effects" are important in conceptualizing and understanding the family's etiological role. The concept of interaction is based upon the assumption that variables may not have causal efficacy within themselves, entirely independent of other variables. Variable interaction occurs when the effect of an independent variable varies depending on the value of another independent variable. This study utilized questionnaire data gathered as a part of the Richmond Youth Study by the Survey Research Center (University of California, Berkeley) in 1965. The original stratified random sample consisted of 5,545 junior and senior high school students. While this sample included both male and female, black and nonblack adolescents, the present analysis focused on the 1,588 nonblack subsample. Survey data was available on a wide variety of youth-related issues, including self-reported delinquent activity and family conditions. This study analyzed the interactive effects of five family dimensions in relation to four other causal variables commonly associated with delinquency involvement: community social disorganization delinquent friends, attachment to peers, and delinquent definitions. Analysis of variance, a multivariate statistical model, was used to distinguish significant independent and interactive effects. Identified interactive effects were then examined through tabular analysis in order to provide a more precise understanding of how these variables interact in affecting delinquency involvement. Finally, the general notions of variable interaction which are implied by existing theories were assessed. The data analysis revealed that family factors influenced delinquency in different ways. The level of an adolescent's attachment to father was found to be independently related to delinquent activity after controlling for all other effects (independent and interactive). Paternal discipline had an interactive effect on delinquency such that the type of paternal discipline influenced the effect that community social disorganization and number of delinquent friends had on delinquency; in turn, paternal discipline was significantly related to delinquency involvement under certain conditions of these same variables. The other three family factors, however, did not have a significant independent or interactive effect on delinquency involvement. These findings suggest that causal explanation and research dealing solely with direct, independent effects may minimize and oversimplify the causal role of certain family factors. At least a small portion of the family's influence on delinquency involvement is through interactive effects with non-familial variables. Existing theories have failed to actively consider such interactive effects. Furthermore, the general notions of variable interaction which are implied by current theories failed to find support in the data of the present study. Thus, future theory and research would likely benefit from consideration of interactive effects.


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Portland State University. School of Urban and Public Affairs.

Persistent Identifier