An evaluation of the impact of gender, racial/ethnic background, social class, family and peer influence on juvenile delinquency

Literature Review, 2011

66 Pages, Grade: A



Aims 2

Objectives/Purpose of the Thesis

Statement of the Problem

Literature Review:
Introduction (Definitions)
Juvenile Delinquency
Social Class

Main Findings/Arguments of Authors
Gender-delinquency relation
Race/ethnicity delinquency relation
Social Class-delinquency relation
Family- delinquency relation
Peer-delinquency relation




The aims of the study is to understand the real life conditions and experiences of children together with the factors that may influence school violence and juvenile delinquency among whom the highest incidences of violence have been reported, and if possible to construct an adequate theory about the upsurge in crime in this youthful section of the population using the dynamics of race, gender, social class, family factors and peer influence.

Objectives/Purpose of the Thesis

The objective of the research is to investigate the experiences of students in the Penal/Debe region in Trinidad, and to enquire into their perceptions/experiences of the root causes, consequences and outcomes of youth engagement in violence. A further objective is to propose policies and recommendations to address the root problems of school violence and delinquency exposed by the research to reduce the levels of crime, delinquency and violence among this youthful population. In addition to recommend polices/ strategies to strengthening student protection, school, families and the community as a whole.

Statement of the Problem

The increase in criminal behavior among the youth population in Trinidad and Tobago has been of national concern for some time. Reports of serious crime – murder, attack with a weapon, rape, larceny, kidnapping - allegedly committed by school students and reported in the press, have given rise to great concern and stimulated resultant explanations from lay persons and policy makers alike. The reasons for and the appropriate methods of dealing with this relatively new phenomenon in the Trinidad context, have abounded and are discussed in various public fora. However, this upsurge has given rise to what are the causal factors for the extent and forms of delinquency. The dynamics of gender, race, social class, family and peer influence will be examine to demonstrate how they are related to the upsurge in delinquency and criminal activities in this youth section of the population.


Definitions of Terms:-

According to a definition provided by the World Health Organization, violence is: “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development or deprivation”.

Crime is defined as behaviour which is in violation of the law. It is behaviour which is punishable by law, though not necessarily punished (Braithwaite, 1979). In turn, violent crime has been defined as any act which causes a physical or a psychological wound or damage and which is against the law (Vederschueren, 1996, cited in Moser 2002).

Juvenile delinquency:

Juvenile delinquency is defined in varying ways; according to Siegel and Welsh (2007, 9) it is defined as criminal behaviour engaged in by minors. It refers to the participation in illegal behaviour by a minor who falls under a statutory age limit. Holmes et al., (2001, 185) stated that juvenile delinquency refers to the antisocial behaviour/ illegal behaviour by children or adolescents. He further posits that a juvenile delinquent is one who repeatedly commits crime.

According to Mustapha (2006, 181) juvenile delinquency may be defined as criminal behaviour committed by minors. Minors are individuals who fall under a statutory age limit. He states that individual in this category are tried differently from adults in a court of law, and that the statutory age limit varies from country to country.

Deosaran and Chadee (1997, 168) postulates that “delinquency reflects some kind of deviant behaviour officially prescribed or socially labelled”. They further stated that a “delinquent youth is commonly seen as one who has committed a wrong as defined by law, be it a serious crime or a minor offence”. They argued that the emphasis is placed on age of the offender and not so much on the offending act itself, because when the youth is over 16 and commits a serious crime and put in a ‘juvenile home’ as the case in Trinidad and Tobago, he is still seen as ‘delinquent’ and not so much as a criminal.

Savitz (1997, 15) noted that delinquencies are all actions legally proscribed for a child above the age of culpability and below a certain maximum age (16, 17 or 18). If the child is engaged in proscribed behaviour, the state acting in place of the parent, is obliged to treat (not punish) the child. Savitz further posits that juvenile delinquencies include such offenses as truancy, incorrigibility and running away from home as well as trivial offenses which include obscene language, street corner lounging, visiting gambling places and smoking cigarettes.

Delinquency, or juvenile crime, means crime committed by people who have not yet attained adulthood. The Pan American Health Organization (1994) and the World Health Organization define adolescence as the period between 10 and 19 years of age, and youth as the period between 15 and 24 years. The World Bank defines “at risk youth” as those who face environmental, social and family condition that hinder their personal development and their successful integration into the economy and the society. Juvenile delinquency in its simplest term refers to the antisocial or illegal behavior by children or adolescents. A Juvenile Delinquent is one who repeatedly commits crime.

The main state that deals with juvenile justice in Trinidad and Tobago is the ‘Children Act’. This statute defines a child as a person under the age of 14 and a young person as a person 14 years or upwards and under the age of 17 years. Therefore this author defines juvenile delinquent as someone under the age of 17 years who commits an antisocial deviant act as defined by the law of the land.


Barriteau (1998, 30) defines gender as a “complex systems of personal and social relations of power through which women and men are socially created and maintained through which they gain access to, or are allocated status, power and material resources within society”. Young (1988, 93) stated that gender refers to the way that “our basic social identities as men and as women are socially constructed rather than based on fixed biological characteristics”.

The World Health Organization (1998) posits that the word gender is used to describe the characteristics, roles and responsibilities of women and men, boys and girls, which are socially constructed. Gender is related to how we are perceived and expected to think and act as women and men because of the way society is organized, not because of our biological differences.

Gender according to ‘Health Canada’ (2002) refers to the array of socially constructed roles and relationships, personality traits, attitudes, behaviours, values, relative power and influence that society ascribes to the two sexes on a differential basis. Gender is relational - gender roles and characteristics do not exist in isolation, but are defined in relation to one another and through the relationships between women and men, girls and boys.

It can be established that there are no universal definition of gender however; this author would define gender as a multifaceted series of responsibilities which are socially constructed to distinguish the different between male and female.


According to Mustapha (2007, 224) “a race is a human population that is believed to be distinct in some way from other humans based on real or imagined physical differences. He state that race classifications are rooted in the idea of biological classification of humans according to morphological features such as skin colour or facial characteristics”. Mustapha further state that ethnicity, while related to race, refers not to physical characteristics but social traits that are shared by the human population. The social traits that is used for ethnic classification include; nationality, tribe, religion, language and culture.

When people use race they attach a biological meaning and others see race as socially constructed. The biological construction of race denotes that there exist natural, physical divisions among humans that are hereditary and is reflected in morphology. The social construction of race denotes as a vast group of people who are loosely bound together by historical contingent, socially significant elements of their morphological features and ancestry.

Wahab (2011) said that race has certain type of condition applied; it is not biological but socially constructed. He posits that we can never get beyond race because of the conceptualization of difference. He further said that race is also historically constructed and that self identification is a negation in Trinidad, since our historical legacy is a blue printing of race and ethnicity in terms of colonialism. He gave the example- “I am Indian because I am not African”.

Race therefore according to Du bois (1992), refers to a group of people who perceived themselves and are perceived by others, a different, because of biological inherited characteristics, e.g. hair texture, skin colour etc. Ethnicity on the other hand which is a separate concept from that of race denotes “a group of people with common cultural characteristics, as having the same language, place of origin and values” (Du bois 1992).

Social Class

Social class also termed socio-economic status refers to the economic or cultural arrangement of groups in society. The term "social class"-often shortened to "class" is used by sociologists to refer to the stratification of a population. Within this general delimitation the concept of class has no precise, agreed-upon meaning but is used either as an omnibus term,' to designate differences based on wealth, income, occupation, status, group identification, level of consumption, and family background, or by some particular researcher or theorist as resting specifically on some one of these enumerated factors(Gordon, 1949; Fairchild, 1944).

Although the term ‘socioeconomic status’ is used frequently, there is no general consensus regarding how to define and measure this construct. In general, Sawarski and Boesel (1988) stated that socioeconomic status is considered as an indicator of economic and social position. Socio-economic status according Houghton (2005) refers to “an individual's or group's position within a hierarchical social structure. Socioeconomic status depends on a combination of variables, including occupation, education, income, wealth, and place of residence.

In Marxist theory, social classes are defined and based on three premises: 1) who owns property and the means of production and who performs the work in the production process, 2) the social relationships involved in work and labour and 3) who produces and who controls the surplus value labour. There are two main classes in capitalism in the Marxist tradition, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Marxism holds that a person's social class is determined not by the amount of his wealth, but by the source of his income as determined by his relation to labour and to the means of production. To Marxists, the class to which a person belongs is determined by objective reality, not by someone's opinion.

In Weber’s conception, social class is just one of the features which can influence social stratification. According to Weber, an individual would be stratified (assigned a position within the social hierarchy) based on three factors: class, status or party. He defined social class as a group of people who share a similar position in a market economy and by virtue of that fact receive similar economic rewards. For Weber class position was not tied to one’s relation to the means of production in the strictest Marxist. According to him, one’s social class position was determined by one’s relation to the market (Haralambos and Holborn 2008, 45). In a strictly Weberian sense those who possess wealth tend to be the highest income earners and so comprise the highest social class. They are followed by those who do not own wealth but are high income earners (the middle class/petty bourgeoisie) which are then followed by the manual working class who are the smallest income earners and so form the lowest class.

In relation to Trinidad and Tobago, according to Mustapha (2007, 233) it has been established that three classes exist within the social strata which include upper class, middle class and the lower/working class. Sociologists often use social class/ socioeconomic status as a means of predicting behaviour/ and for the purpose of this essay it is used as predicting delinquency behaviour”. There seem exist a symbiotic relationship among gender, racial/ethnic backgrounds, social class and juvenile delinquency. For the purpose of this paper an analysis will be give to demonstrate the relationship on how does gender, race and social class relate to delinquency in Trinidad and Tobago.

An important aspect of delinquency is the relation of personal traits and social characteristics associated with adolescent misconduct. There exist varying contributing factors to delinquent antisocial behaviour, but this literature review seeks to only show how gender, race/ethnic background, social class, family and peers relates to juvenile delinquency.


The family is one of the oldest social institutions which Murdock (1949) defined as ‘a social group characterised by common residence, economic co-operation and reproduction.’ Wright and Wright (1994) have described the family as the foundation of society. Additionally, it is the primary mechanism of socialization for new entrants of society. With the dynamic global environment, the institution of the family has gone through radical changes which led to an erosion of societal norms and values. These changes have also facilitated the establishment of entirely new structures inclusive of the single parent families, non-marital unions, and transnational families among others. It has also been noticed that the age of perpetrators of criminal activities are becoming younger and younger. With juvenile recidivism rates skyrocketing across many cultures and nations; the looming threat that younger generations are violent in nature and brutish by actions continues to plague the criminal justice system.

Derzon (2005) suggests that the family construct though important and vital to the socialization process it is also plausible that it also propagates the development of antisocial behaviour. Negative family factors therefore sometimes compound other crimogenic predictors of the external environment and prove to stimulate the occurrence of juvenile delinquency. He further states that ddysfunctional family setting is characterized by; conflict, inadequate parental control, weak internal linkages and integration, and premature autonomy which are closely associated with juvenile delinquency.

Moreover, he stated that children in disadvantaged families that have few opportunities for legitimate employment and face a higher risk of social exclusion are overrepresented among offenders. The plight of ethnic minorities and migrants, including displaced persons and refugees in certain parts of the world, is especially distressing. The countries in transition are facing particular challenges in this respect, with the associated insecurity and turmoil contributing to an increase in the numbers of children and juveniles neglected by their parents and suffering abuse and violence at home.

According to the world youth report (2003), it was stated that the family as a social institution is currently undergoing substantial changes; its form is diversifying with, the increase in one-parent families and non-marital unions. The absence of fathers in many low-income families can lead boys to seek patterns of masculinity in delinquent groups of peers. These groups in many respects substitute for the family, define male roles, and contribute to the acquisition of such attributes as cruelty, strength, excitability and anxiety. The importance of family well-being is becoming increasingly recognized.

Furthermore, it was stated that success in school depends greatly on whether parents have the capacity to provide their children with “starting” opportunities (including the resources to buy books and manuals and pay for studies). Adolescents from low-income families often feel excluded. To raise their self-esteem and improve their status they may choose to join a juvenile delinquent group. These groups provide equal opportunities to everyone, favourably distinguishing themselves from school and family, where positions of authority are occupied by adults. When young people are exposed to the influence of adult offenders they have the opportunity to study delinquent behaviour, and the possibility of their engaging in adult crime becomes more real. The “criminalization” of the family also has an impact on the choice of delinquent trajectories (World Youth Report 2003).


Peer refers to one that is of equal standing with another equal in terms of belonging to the same societal group especially based on age, grade, or status (Merriam 2011). Everyone has peer(s) as a need to belong, to feel connected with others and be with others who share attitudes, interests, and circumstances that resemble their own. People choose friends who accept and like them and see them in a favourable light. Teenagers want to be with people their own age (their peers). During adolescence, youths spend more time with their peers and without parental supervision. With peers, teens can be both connected and independent, as they break away from their parents' images of them and develop identities of their own. While many families help teens in feeling proud and confident of their unique traits, backgrounds, and abilities, peers are often more accepting of the feelings, thoughts, and actions associated with the teen's search for self-identity. The influence of peers whether positive or negative is of critical importance in a teenager life, as they feel that the opinion of their peers carry more weight than their parents (Salisbury 2008).

The author further stated that positive peer pressure is the ability to develop healthy friendships and peers relationships which depends on a teen's self-identity, self-esteem, and self-reliance. He stated that at its best, peer pressure can mobilize your teen's energy, motivate for success, and encourage your teen to conform to healthy behaviour. Peers can and do act as positive role models, and demonstrate appropriate social behaviours. Peers often listen to, accept, and understand the frustrations, challenges, and concerns associated with being a teenager.

On the contrary the negative peer pressure is the need for acceptance, approval, and belonging is vital during the teen years. Teens who feel isolated or rejected by their peers or in their family are more likely to engage in risky behaviours in order to fit in with a group. In such situations, peer pressure can impair good judgment and fuel risk-taking behaviour, drawing a teen away from the family and positive influences and luring into dangerous activities.

Furthermore, Salisbury (2008) stated that a powerful negative peer influence can motivate a teen to make choices and engage in behaviour that his or her values might otherwise reject. Some teens will risk being grounded, losing their parents' trust, or even facing jail time, just to try and fit in or feel like they have a group of friends they can identify with and who accept them. Sometimes, teens will change the way they dress, their friends, give up their values or create new ones, depending on the people they hang around with. Additionally, the author stated that some teens harbour secret lives which is governed by the influence of their peers. Some including those who appear to be well-behaved, high-achieving teens when they are without adults they engage in negative, even dangerous behaviour when with their peers. Once influenced, teens may continue the slide into problems with the law, substance abuse, school problems, authority defiance, gang involvement and the like (Salisbury 2008).

Main Findings/ Arguments of Authors

Youth Violence, which has traditionally been regarded as an issue of criminal and social pathology, is now, because of the high social and economic costs associated with crime, widely recognised as a macro-economic problem (Ayres 1998), and as a phenomenon which is often determined and caused by economic factors. The causes of crime are diverse and complex. Criminologists, in explaining the correlates and causes of crime, consider factors as varied as gender, race/ethnicity, social class, family background, crime reduction policies and strategies, and economic factors (Wilson and Petersilia, 1995).

A rough survey of the vast majority of explanations of the apparent upsurge in youth crime and violent behaviour in Trinidad, attribute blame to the determinants of family, social class, gender, race, among many others and changes in the morals and values in the society, which is associated with a decline in moral education through religion, or with the relaxation of adequate punishment systems for children, from an early age, for engaging in socially unacceptable behaviours. This is understood as occurring in the home as well as in the school system. Youth crime has specifically been addressed by Cloward and Ohlin.

Cloward and Ohlin (1984) inherit the consensus notions of Merton in concluding that there is an all embracing cultural goal – monetary success - with two types of institutional means available for its achievement – the legitimate and the illegitimate. The legitimate is available in organized, respectable society; the illegitimate in the organized slum. Two distinct social organizations exist, each with its own ecological base, but sharing the same cultural goals. However, in the disorganized slum, both legitimate and illegitimate opportunities and ‘culture’ are absent.

Additionally, Cohen argues in that delinquent cultures are the product of the conflict between working and middle class cultures; yet there is internalization of middle class norms of success by working class youth. This causes status frustration, reaction formation and a collective revolt against the standards which they are unable to achieve. The delinquent sub culture is thus “malicious, short-term, hedonistic, non-utilitarian and negativistic”.

Critics of these explanations, such as Taylor, Walton and Young, have largely advanced the critical and the neo-Marxist schools of thought which have produced a large body of work on this area. Taylor notes that in the case of Cohen’s adolescents, it is more likely that what has occurred is a realistic disengagement from the success goals of the school, because of a lack of tangible opportunities and inappropriate cultural skills and a focus on their expressive aspirations of leisure pursuits. He saw that the central problems were the institutionalization of inequality/poverty and the institutionalization of racism.

In the Caribbean context, one example of this critical approach to explanation can be found in the work of Ken Pryce who states that; “the orthodox viewpoint is that crime in developing countries is the product of social change, the manifestation in these societies of a transition from a traditional to a modern stage of development… this endangers imbalances such as overcrowding, alienation and anomie in the city”

Pryce advances a contrary view and purports that the rising crime in developing societies is not a product of modernization per se but a symptom of a particular type of development based on exploitation and “the development of under-development” such as is evidenced in the Capitalist societies of the Caribbean for the past decades. He suggests that the profit-centered pattern of development enriches a few and disposes the many, through unemployment, …which in turn leads to a diversity of survival strategies based on pimping, hustling, pushing, scrunting, prostitution, violence and wretchedness.

Gender-Delinquency Relation

The relationship between gender and delinquency is a topic of considerable interest to researchers. At one time the attention was directed to solely the male offenders and female offenders were ignored, but the nature and the extent of female delinquency have changed and females are now engaging in frequent and serious illegal activities. Deosaran (2007) stated that when compared with females’ students, males commit significantly more physical violence, more substance abuse, more high risk behaviour, more stealing and more disorder and incivility. Therefore males commit significantly more acts than females.

This study is relevant to this research because it highlights the relationship between gender and delinquency, with a particular finding that the males commit more significant acts than females. However, limitations of is based on the fact that the researcher neglects to identify that females commit more delinquency act (runaway) that males as argued by Siegel and Welsh (2009). Additionally, this study requires a more equal distribution of the questionnaire, perhaps 50% for both genders rather than 44% male and 56% females. Furthermore, the study was only based in only ten secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago, this sample is not representative of all school in Trinidad and Tobago, and only 1800 students were samples. Therefore, a larger sample size was needed so that the conclusions can be more generalised to represent both Trinidad and Tobago.

Similarly, in a previous study done by Deosaran and Chadee (1997) it was stated that the data suggest significant difference between male and female youths. Harmful crimes were committed by 87% of older boys as compared to females. Therefore it can be concluded that males commit more serious offenses than females and they are more likely to engage in delinquent antisocial behaviour. Sociologists and psychologist argues that there are differences in attitudes, values and behaviour between males and females. There are also cognitive differences where females process information differently than males and have different cognitive and physical strengths. These differences may explain gender differences in delinquency. Furthermore girls are socialized differently which cause them to internalize rather that externalize anger and aggression as males do. There are also psychological differences between the both sexes which expose females to be at risk for greater level of mental anguish than males.


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An evaluation of the impact of gender, racial/ethnic background, social class, family and peer influence on juvenile delinquency
The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine
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BSc, MSc Stacy Ramdhan (Author), 2011, An evaluation of the impact of gender, racial/ethnic background, social class, family and peer influence on juvenile delinquency , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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