Race, Ethnicity, and Deviance

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Sociological Forum, Vol. 17, No. 4, December 2002 ( C 2002)

Race, Ethnicity, and Deviance: A Study of Asian and Non-Asian Adolescents in America1 Sung Joon Jang2

This study shows that Asian American adolescents commit less deviance in the form of school misbehavior than white, black, Hispanic, or Native American adolescents. Social control and social learning theories receive support as the observed differences are explained primarily by race/ethnic differences in family backgrounds and school bonding. These variables’ explanatory ability tends to be invariant across four regional groups of Asian Americans. This study applies OLS regression to self-reported data from a nationally representative sample. KEY WORDS: Asian American; adolescent deviance; social control; social learning; race/ ethnicity; juvenile delinquency.

INTRODUCTION In the midst of the ongoing debate over the arbitrariness of race categorization and changes in the social conception and significance of race and ethnicity (Alba, 1990; Barringer et al., 1993; Lieberson and Waters, 1988; Peterson and Hagan, 1984; Wilson, 1980), sociological criminologists have regarded race/ethnicity as a major demographic correlate of deviance and crime. While early self-report studies argued that racial/ethnic differences in crime observed in official data primarily reflect bias in the justice system against racial/ethnic minorities (e.g., Chambliss and Nagasawa, 1 An

earlier version of this paper was presented at the 12th International Congress on Criminology of the International Society for Criminology, Seoul, Korea, August, 1998. 2 Department of Sociology, Louisiana State University, 126 Stubbs Hall, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803; e-mail: sjang@lsu.edu. 647 0884-8971/02/1200-0647/0

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2002 Plenum Publishing Corporation

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1969), victimization studies, as well as later self-report studies, find that the system-bias factor cannot explain most of the observed differences (Hindelang et al., 1979; Sampson and Lauritsen, 1997). Cross-national studies generally concur with this finding (Tonry, 1997). Previous researchers, however, have given most attention to white– black comparisons, whether they examine the race/ethnicity–crime bivariate relationship or its theoretical explanations, using official or unofficial data (e.g., Elliott et al., 1989; Hindelang et al., 1979; Matsueda and Heimer, 1987; Sampson and Lauritsen, 1997). Asian Americans have rarely been a focus of interest in comparative etiological research. Even in gang studies, they tend to receive less attention compared to other racial groups (Toy, 1992), and discussion of the etiology of Asian American criminality largely remains sketchy and often speculative (e.g., Flowers, 1988). This general lack of interest in Asian Americans among criminologists may be partly due to their low visibility not only in demographic data3 but also in crime statistics, which might have led scholars to feel less urgency to study Asian Americans than other racial/ethnic minorities whose criminality tends to be higher. However, their low criminality itself warrants systematic examination of Asian Americans, as much as high criminality warrants the study of other racial/ethnic minorities. Another possible reason might be simply the unavailability of data collected from a representative sample that includes a relatively large number of Asian American respondents. Whatever the reason, few criminologists have conducted comprehensive research that compares Asian Americans and non-Asian Americans in deviance and crime. To fill this gap in knowledge, the present study focuses on adolescent deviance, primarily misbehavior at school. Specifically, it first examines the empirical validity of the popular image of Asian American adolescents as well behaved compared to other racial/ethnic groups, using self-reported data from a national survey, unlike previous studies that rely on official data, especially police-arrest data or...
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