Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 730–745 | Cite as

Sex Differences in Sources of Resilience and Vulnerability to Risk for Delinquency

  • Jamie NewsomeEmail author
  • Jamie C. Vaske
  • Krista S. Gehring
  • Danielle L. Boisvert
Empirical Research


Research on adolescent risk factors for delinquency has suggested that, due to genetic differences, youth may respond differently to risk factors, with some youth displaying resilience and others a heightened vulnerability. Using a behavioral genetic design and data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, this study examines whether there are sex differences in the genetic and environmental factors that influence the ways in which adolescents respond to cumulative risk for violent, nonviolent, and overall delinquency in a sample of twins (152 MZ male, 155 MZ female, 140 DZ male, 130 DZ female, and 204 DZ opposite-sex twin pairs). The results revealed that males tended to show greater vulnerability to risk for all types of delinquency, and females exhibited greater resilience. Among males, additive genetic factors accounted for 41, 29, and 43 % of the variance in responses to risk for violent, nonviolent, and overall delinquency, respectively. The remaining proportion of variance in each model was attributed to unique environmental influences, with the exception of 11 % of the variance in nonviolent responses to risk being attributed to common environmental factors. Among females, no significant genetic influences were observed; however, common environmental contributions to differences in the ways females respond to risk for violent, nonviolent, and overall delinquency were 44, 42, and 45 %, respectively. The remaining variance was attributed to unique environmental influences. Overall, genetic factors moderately influenced males’ responses to risk while environmental factors fully explain variation in females’ responses to risk. The implications of these findings are discussed in the context of improving the understanding of relationships between risks and outcomes, as well as informing policy and practice with adolescent offenders.


Add Health Behavioral genetics Resilience Risk Sex differences Vulnerability 



The authors wish to thank John Paul Wright and Christopher J. Sullivan for their thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.

Authors Contributions

JN conceived of the study and its design, performed the statistical analyses, and contributed to and coordinated the draft of the manuscript. JV participated in the interpretation of the results and in preparing the draft of the manuscript. KG participated in the interpretation of the results and their implications and in preparing the draft of the manuscript. DB participated in the design of the study and preparing the draft of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final version of this manuscript.

Conflicts of interest

The authors report no conflict of interests.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminal JusticeUniversity of Texas at San AntonioSan AntonioUSA
  2. 2.Department of Criminology and Criminal JusticeWestern Carolina UniversityCullowheeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Criminal JusticeUniversity of Houston-DowntownHoustonUSA
  4. 4.College of Criminal JusticeSam Houston State UniversityHuntsvilleUSA

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