Study links racial and ethnic gap in youth violence to social factors

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Racial and ethnic disparities in youths' violent behavior can be largely explained by three factors - the types of neighborhoods where young people live, the marital status of their parents, and whether they are first- or second-generation immigrants - according to a study published in the February issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The study, conducted by Robert J. Sampson of Harvard University and Jeffrey D. Morenoff and Stephen Raudenbush of the University of Michigan, shows that the longstanding gap in the racial burden of violence follows a social anatomy and is not immutable.

The odds of committing violence are almost double for blacks as compared to whites and homicide is consistently ranked as the leading cause of death among young black men.

"The study shows that this disparity is largely social in nature and therefore amenable to intervention in community rather than individual settings," says Sampson, the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and lead author of the study, which was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the National Institute of Justice and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Popular explanations of the racial gap in violence - "constitutional" differences in IQ test scores and impulsivity or hyperactivity - accounted for only 6 percent of the racial and ethnic disparities in violent behavior, the researchers found, while family poverty accounted for none of the gap.

In contrast, approximately 60 percent of the difference was explained by neighborhood environment, parents' marital status and immigrant status. Latinos are less likely than whites to engage in violent behavior, and contrary to popular stereotypes, first- and second-generation immigrants and neighborhoods that are immigrant enclaves exhibit lower than average violence.

For the study, which was designed to simultan

Contact: Steve Bradt
Harvard University

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