The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Fall
2010

Broken Homes, Violent Teens


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


When trying to protect the public from violent young men, policymakers often look for ways to put more police officers on the street. Perhaps they should be looking for ways to reduce the number of divorce lawyers in the courtroom. For in a study at Virginia Polytechnic Institute by sociologist Jeannie A. Fry, parental divorce emerges as the likely reason that a disturbing number of young adolescents are committing violent crimes.

After parsing data collected between 1980 to 2006 by the National Center for Juvenile Justice and the U.S. Census Bureau, Fry identifies as her “most remarkable finding . . . the association between divorce and juvenile violent crime.” In a statistical model that took into account measures of political legitimacy and drug use, Fry identifies “a moderate, positive relationship” between the changes in the divorce rate and changes in the violent crime rate among juveniles (p<.001). “Thus, as divorce rates increase,” Fry writes, “the juvenile violent crime rate also increases.” Fry further notes that in a simpler model that removes the statistical controls for political legitimacy and drug use, “divorce has an even stronger, positive correlation with juvenile violent crime.”

Fry suggests that the statistical linkage between divorce rates and violent crime among adolescents reflects the way “divorce adversely affects the abilities of parents to properly monitor and discipline their children, which leads to low self-control and ultimately crime.”

These findings give Americans reason to fear that a persistently high divorce rate means a stubbornly high rate of violent crime.

(Jeannie A. Fry, “Change in Family Structure and Rates of Violent Juvenile Delinquency,” Master’s Thesis, Department of Sociology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, May 17, 2010, pp. 25–40.)

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