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The issue of sex differences in delinquent behaviour is significant with respect to the development of policies and programs intended to affect these behaviours. The results of this study suggest that male and female youths may benefit differently from targeted crime prevention programs. Understanding the differences in causes of crime and delinquency is essential for developing appropriate strategies for intervention and prevention.
This study points to a number of tentative results. First, the NLSCY data corroborate the gender gap in self- and police-reported delinquency found in other research (Huizinga et al. 1995; Kempf-Leonard et al. 2001; Espiritu et al. 2001; Baker 1998). Female youths report lower rates of delinquency than do males for all property-related and violent acts. Second, on average, males report lower levels of commitment to school and higher levels of victimization.
Despite the greater exposure among males to both low school commitment and victimization, the NLSCY data suggest that females may have an increased sensitivity to both factors. While the data illustrate that male and female levels of delinquency were associated with these factors, the lowest levels of school commitment and highest levels of victimization increased the statistical chances of engaging in delinquency more for females than for males. Specifically, females reported more property-related delinquency when they had the lowest commitment to school, and more property-related and violent delinquency at the highest levels of self-reported victimization.
While it must be underscored that the presence of a risk factor is not necessarily predictive of future delinquency, and that the links among these factors explored in this paper are only correlational; the results suggest that that there is a relationship between delinquent behaviour and both low school commitment and previous experiences of victimization for males and females. The greater strength of this relationship for females than males supports previous research pointing to sex differences in the way males and females orient themselves toward others, and in the impact of failed, absent or abusive relationships at school or at home (Taylor, Gilligan and Sullivan 1995). Moreover, the results support the notion that intervention strategies that are specific to females “must consider relationships as key areas in their lives” (Artz 2001, 37).
Pathways to delinquency are complex and affected in many different ways that may change throughout the life course. Future work examining the differential effects of risk and protective factors on males and females will need to take into account such potentially mediating factors as delinquent peers, levels of opportunity and control, gender roles, and attachment to conventional values. In addition, risk and protective factors may vary for males and females in different ways as they grow into adulthood. This can be tested with the release of future NLSCY cycles containing information on delinquency.
Finally, this study has an important limitation, since it relies primarily on data from the third, and most recently available cycle of the NLSCY. Statistics Canada allocated the initial cycle 1 sample of the survey to provide sufficient numbers in each age group to reliably measure characteristics with a national prevalence of 4% for each age group after five survey cycles. However, a natural rate of attrition is expected with any longitudinal survey. A small proportion of families refuse to continue participation in the survey at each cycle, and these families may be disproportionately those at higher risk of turmoil, conflict and delinquent behaviour by their children. Thus, self-report rates presented in this study may underestimate the prevalence of delinquent behaviour; nonetheless, these data improve our understanding of offending behaviour by adding to existing information captured by police agencies.