Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 46, Issue 9, pp 1968–1981 | Cite as

Unstructured Socializing with Peers and Delinquent Behavior: A Genetically Informed Analysis

  • Ryan C. MeldrumEmail author
  • J. C. Barnes
Empirical Research


A large body of research finds that unstructured socializing with peers is positively associated with delinquency during adolescence. Yet, existing research has not ruled out the potential for confounding due to genetic factors and factors that can be traced to environments shared between siblings. To fill this void, the current study examines whether the association between unstructured socializing with peers and delinquent behavior remains when accounting for genetic factors, shared environmental influences, and a variety of non-shared environmental covariates. We do so by using data from the twin subsample of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (n = 1200 at wave 1 and 1103 at wave 2; 51% male; mean age at wave 1 = 15.63). Results from both cross-sectional and lagged models indicate the association between unstructured socializing with peers and delinquent behavior remains when controlling for both genetic and environmental influences. Supplementary analyses examining the association under different specifications offer additional, albeit qualified, evidence supportive of this finding. The study concludes with a discussion highlighting the importance of limiting free time with friends in the absence of authority figures as a strategy for reducing delinquency during adolescence.


Unstructured socializing Delinquency Selection effects Heritability Add Health 



The authors wish to thank Evelien Hoeben for helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. This study 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 the current study.

Author Contributions

R.C.M. conceived of the study, drafted the introduction and literature review sections of the manuscript, and drafted portions of the discussion section; J.C.B. acquired the data for the analysis, conducted the statistical analysis, drafted portions of the methods, results, and discussion sections, and created the tables. All authors read, edited, and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

The procurement of the data required for this study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Cincinnati.

Informed Consent

Consent for participation in the Add Health study was obtained from both the parents of the participants and the participants themselves at the time the study began in the 1990s.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminal JusticeFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  2. 2.School of Criminal JusticeUniversity of CincinnatiCincinnatiUSA

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