Gang Involvement among African American, Latino, and White Youth: The Contextual Significance of Concentrated Neighborhood Disadvantage
Laske, Mary Therese
It has long been known that structural conditions impact crime and delinquency, including gang involvement. Youth living in neighborhoods characterized by concentrated disadvantage, including deep impoverishment, intergenerational reliance on public assistance, obstinate unemployment, and disproportionately high rates of female-headed households, are more likely to be involved in gang activity. Rather than challenge this long-standing relationship between structural disadvantage and crime, this paper seeks to further parse apart the relationships among neighborhood disadvantage, race-ethnicity, and gang involvement to better understand whether neighborhood disadvantage mediates the relationship between race-ethnicity and gang membership. Another goal of this research is to explore the impact of concentrated disadvantage on gang membership at various levels of disadvantage. While it is fairly straightforward to conclude that the most advantaged communities versus underclass neighborhoods will have lower rates of gang involvement, fewer studies have paid attention to communities that fall between this dichotomy of desirable and disadvantaged areas. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the 1990 U.S. Census, this paper addresses these concerns among a nationally representative sample of African American, Latino, and white youth ages 13-21 (N= 6,991). The results of this study show that 1) neighborhood disadvantage mediates the relationship between race-ethnicity and gang membership among African Americans, but not among Latinos and 2) underclass neighborhoods are much more likely to produce gang membership than any other type of neighborhood, including communities that are affluent or have medium levels of disadvantage.