Gender differences in delinquency and health risk behaviors: a test of general strain theory
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Gender is the strongest and most consistent correlate of crime and delinquency, but the reason is unclear and traditionally understudied in criminology. The current study tests the ability of a general theory of crime and deviance, general strain theory (GST), to explain gender differences in responses to strain. Preliminary research suggests that while girls and boys share many of the same types of strain, they also are exposed to qualitatively different types of strain and experience different types of negative emotions that may lead to gendered patterns of behavioral problems. Moreover, girls are thought to have fewer internal coping resources with which to cope. Using a sample of 1,915 adolescents from Wave 2 of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods: Longitudinal Cohort Study (1994-2001), I assess the effects of exposure to violence, sexual victimization, loss of close others, school strain, and fear of victimization on a range of behavioral outcomes including aggressive delinquency, running away, minor theft, substance use, suicidal behavior, and high risk sexual behavior. I also examine the extent to which these effects are mediated by anger, and the conditioning effects of depression and self-efficacy. Results indicate that girls are more exposed to sexual victimization, loss of close others, and fear of victmization, and boys are more exposed to general violence and school strain. However, girls and boys are equally vulnerable to exposure to violence and loss of close others, but respond in gendered ways. Depression and self-efficacy play important roles in explaining the nature of girls' problem behaviors: depression amplifies the effects of exposure to violence, sexual victimization, and loss of close others on running away and suicidality, while reducing the effect of anger on aggressive delinquency. Self-efficacy reduces the effects of exposure to violence and loss of close others on most outcomes, as well as the effect of depression on running away. This research advances the effort to explain how gender influences the complex relationships among strain, negative emotion, selfefficacy, and problematic coping behaviors, and makes a broad contribution to both criminology and the sociology of mental health.