Who you are and where you live: Immigrant status, context, and adolescent problem behavior

Muccino, Lori A.  The Ohio State University. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2008. 3325739.

Abstract (summary)

Over the last two decades, neighborhood of residence has re-emerged as an important predictor of crime, delinquency, and problem behavior at both the macro and micro levels. Specifically, neighborhood social and socioeconomic disadvantage have been found to be associated not only with neighborhood crime rates, but also with individual participation in crime and problem behavior. The most recent research has focused on the social processes that link neighborhood disadvantage to crime and problem behavior outcomes.

One shortcoming of the extant research, however, is that neighborhood characteristics and social processes are generally treated as uniform in their effects—reducing the likelihood of participation in delinquency and problem behavior equally across adolescent residents. As a result, little research has examined whether features of neighborhood contexts may differ in their effects depending on individual statuses, or how certain aspects of neighborhood contexts that are thought to have protective (or detrimental) effects for adolescents may be more or less protective (or detrimental) depending on that adolescent’s status. Researchers have begun to consider the importance of interactions between individual characteristics and features of neighborhood contexts; however, there is no consistent theory that can be used to derive predictions about how key aspects of status condition the effects of important contexts such as schools and neighborhoods.

In this dissertation, I address this gap. In particular, I advance and test here a theory of “relative status” in which I argue that an individual’s status relative to those in his or her immediate milieu conditions participation in delinquency and problem behavior. Drawing on Bourdieu’s insights on distinction and Steele’s concept of “stereotype threat,” the relative status theory posits that individual adolescents engage in or refrain from delinquency as a way of distinguishing themselves from lower status groups to which they risk comparison. If the lower status group is highly conforming, an adolescent may deviate to distinguish him/herself. In contrast, if the lower status group is widely viewed as deviant, an adolescent may be more likely to conform as a process of distinction.

Using data from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey and the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, I apply and test the relative status theory for an important social issue: the relationship between immigrant status and crime. I consider how an individual’s status as Latino, and/or a recent immigrant or child of immigrants, interacts with key aspects of neighborhood structure—economic (dis)advantage and neighborhood immigrant concentration—as well as important neighborhood social processes that are thought to mediate the effects of neighborhood structural contexts, such as collective efficacy. I examine the differential effects of immigrant status and these neighborhood sociodemographic characteristics and social processes on two outcomes: violence and arrest. I adjudicate among three theoretical perspectives: relative status theory, differential social organization theory, and segmented assimilation theory.

I examine two broad hypotheses. First, I consider whether immigrant youth in affluent settings are less likely to engage in violent behavior. Is the relationship between individual-level immigrant status and violence moderated by neighborhood affluence? Second, I consider the potential protective effects of residence in an immigrant “enclave” (i.e., a neighborhood with a substantial number of foreign-born residents) on adolescent arrest, and whether these protective effects matter more for U.S.- or foreign-born adolescents.

The results indicate that the relationship between neighborhood affluence and the likelihood of violence is negative, as expected by differential social organization theory, but is curvilinear for foreign-born adolescents: as neighborhood affluence increases, the likelihood of violence for these adolescents increases, but at the highest levels of affluence, the direction of the effect becomes negative. Second, I find that the relationship between neighborhood percent foreign-born and the likelihood of arrest is also curvilinear. As percentage foreign-born increases, the likelihood of arrest for all adolescents increases up to a tipping point at which the neighborhood approximates an “enclave,” and the likelihood of arrest decreases. Further, residence in an immigrant enclave is protective for an arrest outcome, but its effects are especially protective for U.S.-born Latinos. Foreign-born adolescents are less likely to report an arrest, but this effect is not explained by the foreign-born composition of the neighborhood.

These results thus provide partial support for both the relative status and differential social organization theories. More importantly, however, the results illustrate the need for considering how key aspects of status condition the effects of contexts on adolescent delinquency and problem behavior. The relative status theory advanced in this dissertation allows for the generation of hypotheses regarding the interplay between status and context, and offers a promising avenue for future research.

Indexing (details)

Juvenile delinquency
0626: Sociology
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Adolescent; Immigrant status; Neighborhood effects; Problem behavior
Who you are and where you live: Immigrant status, context, and adolescent problem behavior
Muccino, Lori A.
Number of pages
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 69/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Browning, Christopher R.
The Ohio State University
University location
United States -- Ohio
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL