School Characteristics, Strain, and Adolescent Delinquency: a Test of Macro-Level Strain Theory in China


Despite the important role of schools in influencing juvenile delinquency, limited research has investigated the contextual effects of schools on delinquency. Using the framework of macro-level strain theory, this study investigates the effects of school-level strain on delinquent behavior among Chinese adolescents. The sample comprises 1411 adolescents from 32 middle schools in Guangzhou, a large city in Southern China. Results from multilevel regression models show that school-aggregated level of strain is positively associated with both self-destructive and other-directed delinquent behaviors, after adjusting for individual strain and other sociodemographic variables. Specifically, school-level anticipated educational goal blockage and negative treatment by teachers are positively associated with self-destructive behavior, whereas school mean level of negative treatment by peers is positively related to other-directed behavior. Although individual-level strain is positively associated with both types of delinquency, it only partially mediates the effect of school-level strain on self-destructive delinquent behavior. This study also investigates whether school-level variables may condition the strain-delinquency relationship. The results show a significant interaction between personal strain and overall delinquent schoolmates on both self- and other-directed delinquent behaviors, indicating that school-level delinquent peers significantly exacerbate the effect of strain on delinquent behaviors. These findings suggest that the effort to reduce juvenile delinquency should target practices to alleviate both individual strain and aggregate strain, and provide more resources and support for students, particularly those in schools with substantial disruptive student behaviors, to legitimately cope with strains.

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Chen, X., Cheung, Y. School Characteristics, Strain, and Adolescent Delinquency: a Test of Macro-Level Strain Theory in China. Asian J Criminol (2019).

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  • Macro-level strain theory
  • School-level strain
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Other-directed behavior
  • China