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Studies show that there are persistent differences in the patterns, duration and intensity of offending among young males and females. A number of researchers have suggested that sex differences in delinquent behaviour may be due to differences in the way that males and females are affected by the same risk and protective factors (Mears et al. 1998; Sprott and Doob 2000; Burton et al. 1998). Understanding the sex differences in delinquent and offending behaviour is important with respect to the assessment of needs for these youth (Artz et al. 2001) and the development of policies and programs designed to target these behaviours.
The current study examines factors associated with delinquent behaviour in a Canadian sample of 12-15 year olds. The study investigates whether there are sex differences either in factors that may generate or promote delinquency or in factors that may inhibit or deter delinquency. Specifically, the study tests the sex differences in two factors identified in research as having a strong association with delinquency: the youth’s level of commitment to school, and his or her experience of victimization.
A lack of commitment to school or academic failure is often associated with the onset of delinquency and the escalation of serious offending. Strategies designed to increase a child’s commitment to school have been shown to reduce the chances for delinquency (Maguin and Loeber 1996; Cairns and Cairns 1994; Loeber, Stuothamer-Loeber, Van Kammen and Farrington 1991).
Sprott, Jenkins and Doob (2000) found that the school environment acts as a protective factor for children who may be at highest risk for delinquency. For example, levels of delinquency were reduced for those who had the highest attachment to school, despite being exposed to a number of potential risk factors (e.g., single parent families, hostile parenting, maternal depression, neighbourhood problems, early childhood aggression, and association with delinquent peers).
Research has also consistently indicated that low school commitment is associated with the risk of the most serious forms of delinquency including gang involvement (Bjerregard and Smith 1993; Esbensen and Deschenes 1998; Hill et al. 1999).
These researchers have also pointed to sex differences in the link between school-related factors and youth involvement in gangs. For example, Esbensen and Deschenes (1998) studied the relationship between education and gang involvement for males and females. They report that educational attainment is associated with lower levels of gang involvement for females but not males. Moreover, they also found that the level of commitment to school is significantly lower among females in gangs than those who are not in gangs, but these same differences are not present for males, who report similar levels of commitment to school regardless of their involvement in gangs.
Researchers have established a clear link between victimization and subsequent delinquent behaviour. This relationship exists regardless of the type of victimization. For example, victimization perpetrated by peers is often intertwined with delinquency. Studies based primarily on male youth indicate that as the seriousness of offending increases, so does the probability of having been violently victimized (Loeber, Kalb and Huizinga 2001).
Victimization experienced in the home or other environments and perpetrated by someone in a relationship of power over the victim, has also been linked to subsequent violent and non-violent offending. Evidence suggests that children who have been victims of various forms of maltreatment perpetrated by parents or caregivers are more likely than others to commit violent crimes later in life (Widom 1989; Zingraff et al. 1993; Smith and Thornberry 1995; Ireland et al. 1994).
Thus, regardless of the relationship to the perpetrator, youth who experience victimization have been demonstrated to be at greater risk of delinquency. The current study will examine whether victimization affects males and females in different ways.
The purpose of this study is to examine patterns of self-reported delinquent behaviour and associated risk and protective factors in a national household sample of males and females aged 12-15 years. Specific questions addressed are (1) Do males and females differ in the frequency or severity of self-reported delinquency? (2) Are there factors that may explain differences in male and female delinquency patterns? Or more specifically, do levels of commitment to school or experiences of victimization explain any sex differences that may be found?
This study assesses these questions separately for violent and property-related delinquency, since previous research suggests both that there may be different risk factors related to different types of delinquency (Sprott, Jenkins and Doob 2000; Moffit 1993), and that males and females differ in their propensity to commit these different types of delinquency (Mears et al. 1998; Espiritu et al. 2001).