American Journal of Community Psychology

, Volume 54, Issue 3–4, pp 304–315 | Cite as

Rural Neighborhoods and Child Aggression

  • Natasha K. BowenEmail author
  • Christopher J. Wretman
Original Article


Structural equation modeling with latent variables was used to evaluate the direct and mediated effects of a neighborhood risk factor (negative teen behaviors) on the parent-report aggressive behavior of 213 students in grades 3 through 5 attending a school in a low-income, rural community. Contagion and social control hypotheses were examined as well as hypotheses about whether the neighborhood served as a microsystem or exosystem for rural pre-adolescents. Analyses took into account the clustering of students and ordinal nature of the data. Findings suggest that rural neighborhoods may operate as both a microsystem and exosystem for children, with direct contagion effects on their aggressive behaviors as well as indirect social control effects through parenting practices. Direct effects on aggression were also found for parenting practices and child reports of friends’ negative behaviors. Pre-adolescence may be a transitional stage, when influences of the neighborhood on child behavior begin to compete with influences of caregivers. Findings can inform the timing and targets of violence prevention in rural communities.


Neighborhood Aggression Pre-adolescence Structural equation model Contagion Social control 



The ESSP was developed in collaboration with Flying Bridge Technologies, with funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Grant Numbers 1 R42 DA13865-01, 3 R41 DA13865-01S1, and 2 R42DA013865-02. Findings, opinions, and recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Flying Bridge Technologies, NIH, or NIDA.


  1. Anderson, J. C., & Gerbing, D. W. (1988). Structural equation modeling in practice: A review and recommended two-step approach. Psychological Bulletin, 103(3), 411–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Astor, R. A., & Benbenishty, R. (2005). School violence in context: Culture, neighborhood, family, school, and gender. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bandura, A. (1978). Social learning theory of aggression. Journal of Communication, 28, 12–29. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1978.tb01621.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beauducel, A., & Herzberg, P. Y. (2006). On the performance of maximum likelihood versus means and variance adjusted weighted least squares estimation in CFA. Structural Equation Modeling, 13, 186–203. doi: 10.1207/s15328007sem1302_2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Benson, M. J., & Buehler, C. (2012). Family process and peer deviance influences on adolescent aggression: Longitudinal effects across early and middle adolescence. Child Development, 83, 1213–1228. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01763.x.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  6. Bollen, K. A. (1989). Structural equations with latent variables. New York, NY: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bowen, N. K. (2005). Histories of developmental task attainment in aggressive children and their relationship to behavior in middle childhood. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 13, 113–124. doi: 10.1177/10634266050130020401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bowen, N. K. (2011). Child-report data and assessment of the social environment in schools. Research on Social Work Practice21, 476–486. doi: 10.1177/1049731510391675.
  9. Bowen, N. K., Bowen, G. L., & Woolley, M. E. (2004). Constructing and validating assessment tools for school-based practitioners: The elementary school success profile. In A. R. Roberts & K. R. Yeager (Eds.), Evidence-based practice manual: Research and outcome measures in health and human services (pp. 509–517). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bowen, G. L., Rose, R. A., & Bowen, N. K. (2005). The reliability and validity of the school success profile. Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris.Google Scholar
  11. Bowen, N. K., Bowen, G. L., & Ware, W. B. (2002). Neighborhood social disorganization, families, and the educational behavior of adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 17, 468–490. doi: 10.1177/0743558402175003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boxer, P., Guerra, N. G., Huesmann, L. R., & Morales, J. (2005). Proximal peer-level effects of a small-group selected prevention on aggression in elementary school children: An investigation of the peer contagion hypothesis. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 33, 325–338. doi: 10.1007/s10802-005-3568-2.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brody, G. H., Conger, R., Gibbons, F. X., Ge, X., Murry, V. M., Gerrard, M., et al. (2001). The influence of neighborhood disadvantage, collective socialization, and parenting on African American children’s affiliation with deviant peers. Child Development, 72(4), 1231–1246.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brody, G. H., Ge, X., Kim, S. Y., Murry, V. M., Simons, R. L., Gibbons, F. X., et al. (2003). Neighborhood disadvantage moderates associations of parenting and older sibling problem attitudes and behavior with conduct disorders in African American children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 211–222. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.71.2.211.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1992). Ecological systems theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Six theories of child development: Revised formulations and current issues (pp. 187–248). Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.Google Scholar
  16. Dishion, T. J., & Dodge, K. A. (2005). Peer contagion in interventions for children and adolescents: Moving towards an understanding of the ecology and dynamics of change. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 33, 395–400. doi: 10.1007/s10802-005-3579-z.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. Dishion, T. J., & Tipsord, J. M. (2011). Peer contagion in child and adolescent social and emotional development. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 189–214. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100412.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. Elliott, S., & Aseltine, E. (2013). Raising teenagers in hostile environments: How race, class, and gender matter for mothers’ protective carework. Journal of Family Issues, 34, 719–744. doi: 10.1177/0192513X12452253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Espelage, D. L., Holt, M. K., & Henkel, R. R. (2003). Examination of peer-group contextual effects on aggression during early adolescence. Child Development, 74, 205–220. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00531.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Flora, D. B., & Curran, P. J. (2004). An empirical evaluation of alternative methods of estimation for confirmatory factor analysis with ordinal data. Psychological Methods, 9, 466–491. doi: 10.1037/1082-989X.9.4.466.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  21. Ingoldsby, E. M., & Shaw, D. (2002). Neighborhood contextual factors and early-starting antisocial pathways. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 5, 21–55.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ingoldsby, E. M., Shaw, D. S., Winslow, E., Schonberg, M., Gilliom, M., & Criss, M. M. (2006). Neighborhood disadvantage, parent–child conflict, neighborhood peer relationships, and early antisocial behavior problem trajectories. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34, 293–309. doi: 10.1007/s10802-006-9026-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Karriker-Jaffe, K. J., Foshee, V. A., Ennett, S. T., & Suchindran, C. (2008). The development of aggression during adolescence: Sex differences in trajectories of physical and social aggression among youth in rural areas. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36, 1227–1236. doi: 10.1007/s10802-008-9245-5.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. Kohen, D. E., Leventhal, T., Dahinten, V. S., & McIntosh, C. N. (2008). Neighborhood disadvantage: Pathways of effects for young children. Child Development, 79, 156–169. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01117.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Laird, R. D., Pettit, G. S., Dodge, K. A., & Bates, J. E. (1999). Best friendships, group relationships, and antisocial behavior in early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 19, 413–437. doi: 10.1177/0272431699019004001.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  26. Leventhal, T., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2000). The neighborhoods they live in: Effects of neighborhood residence on child and adolescent outcomes. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 309–337. doi: 10.1037//0033-2909.126.2.309.
  27. Loeber, R., & Hay, D. (1997). Key issues in the development of aggression and violence from childhood to early adulthood. Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 371–410. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.48.1.371.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lord, H., & Mahoney, J. L. (2007). Neighborhood crime and self-care: Risks for aggression and lower academic performance. Developmental Psychology, 6, 1321–1333. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.43.6.1321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. McDowell, D. J., & Parke, R. D. (2009). Parental correlates of children’s peer relations; An empirical test of a tripartite model. Developmental Psychology, 45, 224–235. doi: 10.1037/a0014305.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McMahon, R. J., & Kotler, J. S. (2006). Conduct problems. In D. A. Wolfe & E. J. Mash (Eds.), Behavioral and emotional disorders in adolescents (pp. 153–225). New York, NY: Guilford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. McMahon, S. D., Todd, N. R., Martinez, A., Coker, C., Sheu, C., Washburn, J., et al. (2013). Aggressive and prosocial behavior: Community violence, cognitive, and behavioral predictors among urban African American youth. American Journal of Community Psychology, 51, 407–421.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mrug, S., & Windle, M. (2009). Mediators of neighborhood influences on externalizing behavior in preadolescent children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 265–280. doi: 10.1007/s10802-008-9274-0.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Muthén, L. K. (2009, June 26). Re: Missing on x variables. [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from
  34. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (2012). Mplus (version 7). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
  35. Patterson, G. R., Capaldi, D. M., & Bank, L. (1991). An early start model for predicting delinquency. In D. J. Pepler & K. H. Rubin (Eds.), The development and treatment of childhood aggression (pp. 139–168). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  36. Patterson, G. R., Littman, R. A., & Bricker, W. (1967). Assertive behavior in children: A step toward a theory of aggression. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 32, iii-43.Google Scholar
  37. Pohl, S., & Steyer, R. (2010). Modeling common traits and method effects in multitrait-multimethod analysis. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 45, 45–72. doi: 10.1080/00273170903504729.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Reid, J. B., Patterson, G. R., & Snyder, J. (2002). Antisocial behavior in children and adolescents: A developmental analysis and model for intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ribeaud, D., & Eisner, M. (2010). Risk factors for aggression in pre-adolescence: Risk domains, cumulative risk and gender differences–Results from a prospective longitudinal study in a multi-ethnic urban sample. European Journal of Criminology, 7, 460–498. doi: 10.1177/1477370810378116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sampson, R. J., Morenoff, J. D., & Gannon-Rowely, T. (2002). Assessing neighborhood effects: Social processes and new directions in research. Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 443–478. doi: 10.1146/annurev.soc.28.110601.141114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Smokowski, P. R., Cotter, K. L., Robertson, C. I., & Guo, S. (2013). Anxiety and aggression in rural youth: Baseline results from the Rural Adaptation Project. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 44, 479–492. doi: 10.1007/s10578-012-0342-x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Stoddard, S. A., Whiteside, L., Zimmerman, M. A., Walton, E., Chermack, S. T., & Walton, M. A. (2013). The relationship between cumulative risk and promotive factors and violent behavior among urban adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 51, 57–65. doi: 10.1007/s10464-012-9541-7.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  43. Swaim, R. C., Henry, K. L., & Kelly, K. (2006). Predictors of aggressive behaviors among rural middle school youth. Journal of Primary Prevention, 27, 229–243. doi: 10.1007/s10935-006-0031-2.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tilton-Weaver, L. C., Burk, W. J., Kerr, M., & Stattin, H. (2013). Can parental monitoring and peer management reduce the selection or influence of delinquent peers? Testing the question using a dynamic social network approach. Developmental Psychology, 49, 2057–2070. doi: 10.1037/a0031854.
  45. Tremblay, R. E. (2010). Developmental origins of disruptive behaviour problems: The original sin hypothesis, epigenetics and their consequences for prevention. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 341–367. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02211.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Vanfossen, B., Brown, C. H., Kellam, S., Sokoloff, N., & Doering, S. (2010). Neighborhood context and the development of aggression in boys and girls. Journal of Community Psychology, 38, 329–349. doi: 10.1002/jcop.20367.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  47. Vernon-Feagans, L., Gallagher, K. C., & Kainz, K. (2010). The transition to school in rural America. In J. L. Meece & J. S. Eccles (Eds.), Handbook of research on schools, schooling, and human development (pp. 163–184). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  48. Warman, D. M., & Cohen, R. (2000). Stability of aggressive behavior and children’s peer relationships. Aggressive Behavior, 26(4), 277–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wegmann, K. M., Thompson, A. M., & Bowen, N. K. (2011). A confirmatory factor analysis of home environment and home social behavior data from the ESSP for families. Social Work Research35, 65–128.Google Scholar
  50. West, S. G., Taylor, A. B., & Wu, W. (2012). Model fit and model selection in structural equation modeling. In R. H. Hoyle (Ed.), Handbook of structural equation modeling (pp. 209–231). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  51. Xie, H., Drabick, D. A. G., & Chen, D. (2011). Developmental trajectories of aggression from late childhood through adolescence: Similarities and differences across gender. Aggressive Behavior, 37, 387–404. doi: 10.1002/ab.20404.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Community Research and Action 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social WorkUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA

Personalised recommendations