Relationship Dynamics, Gender, and Criminal Offending in Fragile Families


Using data collected from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, this study investigated the links between intimate partners’ relationship dynamics and criminal offending in “fragile families.” We assessed the mechanisms underlying relationships among parents with young children from the perspective of three dominant theories in the field of criminology (i.e., strain, social control/bonding, and social learning theories), as well as the potential moderating effects of gender. In this study, criminal offending is operationalized as whether the respondents have been formally “booked or charged with breaking a law” since the last data collection period. Overall, our study lends some support for all three theories, but we found little evidence that the relationships among our substantive predictor variables and formal contact with the criminal justice system differed by gender.

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  1. 1.

    By marrying up, we mean their likelihood of finding someone who exhibits fewer behavioral challenges or troubles with the law.

  2. 2.

    Although self-report surveys can suffer from underreporting/social desirability issues, they are the most commonly used methods of data collection in the field of criminology — particularly for theory-testing. Research comparing the reliability and validity of self-report to official records of arrests indicates good reliability and strong concurrent validity (see Maxfield et al. 2000).

  3. 3.

    The survey did not ask about what the specific charges entailed.

  4. 4.

    According to Comrey and Lee (1992), loadings in excess of .63 (40 % overlapping variance) are considered “very good;” while those which exceed .55 (30 % overlapping variance) are deemed to be “good.” Additionally, this measure has also been tested in Paat (2011).

  5. 5.

    Baseline education is a 7-category continuous variable with response categories ranging from “no formal schooling” to “graduate or professional school.”

  6. 6.

    Since the rate of criminal involvement seems to peak among young people and declines with age increment, we tested the need to model the age variable as a quadratic term using a residual plot. Further examination of its quadratic fit indicated that this concern was not substantiated.


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Paat, YF., Hope, T.L. Relationship Dynamics, Gender, and Criminal Offending in Fragile Families. J Fam Viol 30, 227–241 (2015).

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  • Relationship dynamics
  • Fragile families
  • Gender
  • Criminal offending