Why Do Youth Join Gangs? A Psychological Approach to Answering an Age-Old Question

Brown, Adeline [Browse]
Senior thesis
72 pages


Dunham, Yarrow [Browse]
Coman, Alin [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Psychology [Browse]
Class year
Restrictions note
Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Summary note
Researchers have been studying gangs for nearly a century, and yet there remains a lack of consensus about why youth join gangs. In an effort to bring some clarity to this area, this thesis discusses the risk factors and motivations associated with joining a gang. Given the dangers that gangs pose to their members and to society, this is certainly a topic worthy of research attention. This thesis presents a broad discussion of the conceptual and empirical issues concerning gang joining. The first chapter will offer a brief history of gang research in the United States, along with the definitional and structural issues surrounding gang research. In the second chapter, the available empirical literature on the potential risk factors for gang membership is reviewed. Thirty-two studies were located that met the selection criteria. The third chapter will describe and summarize what is known about motivations for gang joining. In the fourth chapter, the author draws on the empirical research discussed to present a motivational model of gang joining. This model describes the processes by which individuals living in the same high-risk neighborhood decide to join (or not join) a gang. The thesis concludes with implications for prevention and recommendations for future research efforts.

Supplementary Information