, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 237-244

Hopelessness and Violence Among Inner-City Youths

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Objectives: Ethnographic literature on inner-city life argues that adolescents react to their uncertain (and objectively bleak) future by abandoning hope; this, in turn, leads them to engage in risk behaviors, including violence, with considerable frequency. This study empirically measures the pervasiveness of hopelessness and uncertainty about the future among inner-city adolescents and documents the link between hopelessness, uncertainty, and risk behavior. Methods: We surveyed a sample of 583 adolescents (aged 9–19) living in public housing in Huntsville, AL; this constitutes 80% of the eligible population. Each participant in the survey received $10. Their responses yielded empirical distributions for hopelessness, uncertainty about the future, and four violent behaviors. Using OLS regression, we examined the effect of hopelessness on these violent behaviors. Results: Hopelessness about the future was relatively rare, affecting only 20–30% of the respondents. However, it was a strong predictor of fighting and carrying a knife for females, and of carrying a knife, carrying a gun, and pulling a knife or gun on someone else for males. Uncertainty about the future was more prevalent, but unrelated to the violent behaviors. Conclusions: These results suggest that the conclusions of the ethnographic literature are only partially valid: While hopelessness is, in fact, strongly related to risk behavior, it is not nearly so prevalent as is generally assumed.