Empirical Research

Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 40, Issue 8, pp 1039-1051

First online:

Examining the Influence of Family Environments on Youth Violence: A Comparison of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Non-Latino Black, and Non-Latino White Adolescents

  • Lorena M. Estrada-MartínezAffiliated withCenter for Research on Ethnicity, Culture, and Health, University of Michigan Email author 
  • , Mark B. PadillaAffiliated withHealth Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan
  • , Cleopatra Howard CaldwellAffiliated withHealth Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan
  • , Amy Jo SchulzAffiliated withHealth Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan

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Existing research rarely considers important ethnic subgroup variations in violent behaviors among Latino youth. Thus, their risk for severe violent behaviors is not well understood in light of the immense ethnic and generational diversity of the Latino population in the United States. Grounded in social control theory and cultural analyses of familism, we examine differences in the risk for severe youth violence, as well its associations with family cohesion, parental engagement, adolescent autonomy, household composition, and immigrant generation among Mexican (n = 1,594), Puerto Rican (n = 586), Cuban (n = 488), and non-Latino Black (n = 4,053), and White (n = 9,921) adolescents with data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Results indicate a gradient of risk; White youth had the lowest risk for severe violence and Puerto Rican youth had the highest risk compared to all other racial/ethnic subgroups. Within-group analysis indicates that family factors are not universally protective or risk-inducing. While family cohesion decreased the risk of severe violence among all groups, parental engagement was associated with increased risk among Blacks and Whites, and adolescent autonomy was associated with increased risk among Puerto Ricans and Cubans. In addition, Cuban and White adolescents who lived in single parent households or who did not live with their parents, had higher risk for severe violent behaviors than their counterparts who lived in two parent households. Among Latinos, the association of immigrant generation was in opposite directions among Mexicans and Cubans. We conclude that family and immigration factors differentially influence risk for violence among Latino subgroups and highlight the significance of examining subgroup differences and developing intervention strategies that are tailored to the needs of each ethnic subgroup.


Youth violence Families Latinos Hispanics Mexicans Puerto Ricans Cubans