Advancing General Strain Theory: Three Empirical Studies

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The main premise of general strain theory (GST) is that strains and stressors increase negative emotions, such as anger and depression, which ultimately influence coping—criminal and otherwise (Agnew, 1992). Though

The main premise of general strain theory (GST) is that strains and stressors increase negative emotions, such as anger and depression, which ultimately influence coping—criminal and otherwise (Agnew, 1992). Though there is a lot of research in support of the core arguments of GST, gaps in the knowledge base remain. For example, most researchers have focused on particular types of strains, overlooking nontraditional forms. And though the negative impact of deviant peers on delinquency is well documented, the influence of such peers in terms of coping with negative emotionality is not well understood. This dissertation investigates the relationship between unconventional strains—teenage pregnancy and low social support—on negative outcomes. In addition, this project also examines friendship networks to see whether peer victimization increases personal involvement in violent offending. Additionally, the impact of deviant peers within the GST framework is also tested.

This dissertation uses existing data from Waves I (1994-1995) and II (1996) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). The Add Health is a longitudinal, nationally representative sample of over 20,000 American adolescents who were in grades 7 through 12 during the 1994-1995 school year. Data were drawn from two sources—the in-home interview data and the social network data. Multivariate regression models are used to examine the effects of strain on a number of outcomes of theoretical interest.

The findings indicate that teenage pregnancy, peer victimization, and low social support were all associated with depressive symptoms and deviant coping. More specifically, the results from study one showed that adolescents who had experienced pregnancy were more likely to experience depressive symptoms and engage in substance use behaviors. Depression failed to mediate the relationship between pregnancy and substance use. Teenage pregnancy, depression, and deviant peers interact to amplify alcohol-related problems and marijuana use. In study two the findings revealed that peer victimization was positively related to depression and violent offending. Furthermore, the relationship between peer victimization was partially mediated by depression. Lastly, the findings from study three showed that low social support was associated with depression and delinquency. Consistent with GST, the relationship between low social support and delinquency was fully mediated by depression. Implications for practice and directions future research are discussed.