Broken Family

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FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, JUVENILE DELINQUENCY, AND ADULT CRIMINALITY* JOAN McCORD Temple University
Home observations during childhood and criminal records 30 years later are used to address questions of relative impact among features of child rearing influencing male criminal outcomes The results suggest two mechanisms: Maternal behavior appears to influence juvenile delinquency and, through those effects, adult criminality. Paternal interaction with the family, however. appear to have a more direct influence on the probability of adult criminal behavior.

THEORETICAL

PERSPECTIVE

Historically, family interactions have been assumed to influence criminal behavior. Plato, for example, prescribed a regimen for rearing good citizens in the nursery. Aristotle asserted that in order to be virtuous, “we ought to have been brought up in a particular way from our very youth” (Bk.II, Ch. 3:11048). And John Locke wrote his letters on the education of children in the belief that errors “carry their afterwards-incorrigible taint with them, through all the parts and stations of life” (1693:iv). Twentieth century theorists ranging from the analytic to the behavioral seem to concur with the earlier thinkers in assuming that parental care is critical to socialized behavior. Theorists have suggested that inadequate families fail to provide the attachments that could leverage children into socialized life-styles (e.g., Hirschi, 1969). They note that poor home environments provide a backdrop for children to associate differentially with those who have antisocial definitions of their environments (e.g., Sutherland and Cressey, 1974). And they point out that one feature of inadequate child rearing is l This study was partly supported by U.S. Public Health Service Research Grant MH26779. I thank Richard Parente, Robert Staib, Ellen Myers, and Ann Cronin for tracing the men and their records; Joan Immel, Tom Smedile, Harriet Sayre, Mary Duell, Elise Goldman, Abby Brodkin, and Laura Otten for coding the follow-up. I also express appreciation to the Massachusetts Department of Probation, the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Maine Bureau of Identification, and to California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington for supplying supplemental data about the men. In addition, I thank the anonymous reviewers whose criticisms have greatly improved the product. Only the author is responsible for the statistical analyses and conclusions.

CRIMINOLOGY

VO L U M E

29

NU M B E R

3 1991

397

© McCord, Joan. 1991. "Family Relationships, Juvenile Delinquency, and Adult Criminality" Criminology 29:397-417.

I
398 MCCORD FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS 399 that it fails to reward desired behavior and fails to condemn behavior that is not desired (e.g., Akers, 1973; Bandura and Walters, 1959). Over the past several decades, social scientists have suggested that crime is a product of broken homes (e.g., Bacon et al., 1963; Burt, 1925; Fenichel, 1945; Freud, 1953; Goode, 1956; Murdock, 1949; Parsons and Bales, 1955; Shaw and McKay, 1932; Wadsworth, 1979), maternal employment (e.g., Glueck and Glueck, 1950; Nye, 1959), and maternal rejection (Bowlby, 1940, 1951; Goldfarb, 1945; Newell, 1934, 1936). Some have linked effects from broken homes with the impact parental absence has on sex-role identity (Bacon et al., 1963; Lamb, 1976; Levy, 1937; Miier, 1958; Whiting et al., 1958), and others have suggested that parental absence and maternal employment affect crime through contributing to inadequate supervision (e.g., Dornbusch et al., 1985; Hirschi, 1969; Hoffman, 1975; Maccoby, 1958; Nye, 1958). Despite this long tradition, empirical support demonstrating the link between child rearing and criminal behavior has been weak. Accounting for this fact, Hiihi (1983) suggested that attributing behavioral differences to socialization practiced in the family is “directly contrary to the metaphysic of our age” (p....
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