The article discussed in this paper is Kerryn E. Bell’s study “Gender and Gangs. The quantitative comparison.” The author’s main goal was to discover whether males and females are influenced differently by distinct risk factors, such as community characteristics or parent-child relationships, which sometimes results in the phenomenon of gang involvement. The article shows that the author’s research was thorough, detailed, and comprehensive. It includes a considerable amount of data about the respondents, which allows people to understand the reasons motivating both boys and girls to join gangs, and to examine whether solely traditional approaches can explain gender differences in criminal activity. Although the quantitative study did not prove the author’s hypothesis, its results not only support the existing theories and explain what approaches should be used to study criminal activity and delinquent behavior of different sexes, but also point out what other problems might be studied, what other aspects of this social research can be examined, and how the entire study can be improved.
Since the problems and the nature of female gang activity are not studied well, they require further research. The author claims that previous studies show the lack of consensus and general conclusions concerning this question. Moreover, all the studies conducted do not employ the nationally representative examples, or they are simply focused on gender differences (Bell, 2009, p.363). Bell emphasizes that her research aims to fill the gaps of the female gang involvement. Therefore, she used a quantitative analysis which included the nationally representative samples of school-age children involved in various activities. The study is directed to determine whether males and females differ in their pliability in regard to risk factors. The research is significant since the gang involvement not only affects the lives of separate individuals, but also brings negative long-term consequences for the future of all people (Bell, 2009, p.364).
The causality of the gang involvement is explained by three features, such as having gang-involved relative or friend, neighborhood disadvantages, and the lack of parental supervision along with drug and alcohol addictions (Bell, 2009, p.364). The qualitative study of Hawaiian female gang members proves that growing in poor neighborhoods makes females join gangs, and reports that 90% of the female gang members have a sibling also involved in a gang (Bell, 2009, p.364). The study of J. Miller in different American states documented that women also join gangs due to physical and sexual abuse they are subjected to (Bell 364). The neighborhoods and the gang-involved family members, violence and drug abuse within the family make females avoid their homes and search for social and emotional support elsewhere (Bell, 2009, p.365). The other research shows that males also join gangs due to social instability, poverty, unemployment, neighborhood disadvantage, and influence of parents or friends who are already parts of the gang (Bell, 2009, p.365). Still, it is suggested that despite the similarities in motivation behind male’s and female’s gang involvement, the miserable backgrounds including psychologically broken or unemployed relatives, family violence, and parental drug abuse are more common reasons for females to join the gangs rather than for males (Bell, 2009, p.365). This fact allows to conclude that females need a push to join gangs, while males do not. However, the study of Esbensen demonstrates that there are no significant differences between the reasons that motivate males and females to join gangs, since he established that both genders join gangs for protection (Bell, 2009, p.365).
Bell examines three hypotheses which discuss whether gender should be considered while studying criminal activity. Her hypotheses are based on a range of existing social theories and approaches. The first theory regards the traditional beliefs which state that there should be no distinctions made in gender, while feminist’s theories emphasize that different factors influence men and women (Bell, 2009, p.366). Next, social disorganization theory asserts that juvenile delinquency emerges in those neighborhoods where social relations and institutions can no longer provide the proper control (Bell, 2009, p.366). It also states that poverty and residential instability influence interpersonal relationships and open opportunities for committing crimes. Thus, this theory assumes that the lack of supervision contributes to both boys’ and girls’ association with gangs. Social control theory states that people tend to become involved in the criminal activity naturally, and that individuals do not commit crimes only if they are controlled by a certain force (Bell, 2009, p.367). Therefore, the theory claims that both boys and girls who have strong relations with family and peers, and who are more supervised by parents, will not join gangs. It also emphasizes the fact that gang membership is tied to the lack of social and parental control, and that parents’ behavior is strongly related to children’s criminal actions (Bell, 2009, p.367).
The gender gap that exists due to the differences in the amounts of crime committed by males and females allows to conclude that gender should be indeed considered in criminological research. The feminist theory emphasizes that female victimization and issues of social gender organizations are the main reasons for female criminal activity. Many female gang members were sexually abused during their childhood, and this kind of victimization usually continues within the gang (Bell, 2009, p.368). Also, the theory states that women use violence to protect themselves, while for males violence is a sign of power. Thus, it is believed that both gender-specific and gender-neutral theories should be used to address the gang involvement issues. Bell’s research examines whether this assumption is true or not.
The first and main hypothesis of the study states that similar factors associated with male and female gang involvement influence the genders in different ways. Such factors as neighborhood and family disadvantages, psychological disorders, crimes, and the behavior of surrounding people are believed to have a stronger influence on girls, since women need an extra push to join a gang or get involved in criminal actions (Bell, 2009, p.368). The second argument asserts that since both males and females who live in neighborhoods with high crime rates are likely to join gangs, the distinction should be made based on the greater level of association with deviant peers (Bell, 2009, p.369). The third hypothesis focuses on the idea that social control and parent-child relationship influence the gang membership. According to it, both boys and girls from disadvantaged families are more likely to join gangs. However, it also argues that girls are more strongly affected by this factor since they need a stronger catalyst to turn to delinquency and criminal activity (Bell, 2009, p.369).
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The data for the research was collected by using the Add Health school-based data set, namely focusing on a nationally representative sample of children in grades from 7 to 12. The information was gathered in three waves between 1994 and 2002. The data includes the measures of neighborhood characteristics, parenting practices, family disadvantages, and information about the adolescents’ involvement in gangs (Bell, 2009, p.369). Still, it is possible that a significant part of the juvenile delinquents’ gangs was not included. The study was conducted through one in-school survey and three waves of in-home interviews, along with a parent questionnaire. A random sample later was chosen for the longer in-home interviews. The home addresses of the respondents were recorded to link the places of their residence to census and other data about the state. The final sample consisted of 7,212 respondents (Bell, 2009, p.370).
A range of different measurements was used for the research, which demonstrates that the author wished to conduct a highly detailed study. Self-nomination into a gang was considered as a strong dependent variable of gang involvement (Bell, 2009, p.372). The independent variables included the characteristics of neighborhood and family, exposure to peer violence, and the quality of the parent-child relationships (Bell, 2009, p.372). The neighborhood characteristics which include the unemployment rate, the number of people living beyond the poverty level, and the quantity of homes receiving public assistance were used to test social disorganization theory. The family disadvantages were evaluated in regard to family structure and parental alcohol abuse (Bell, 2009, p.373). Parent-child relationship quality was used to assess the social control theory. It included parental availability index, parent-child social control index, a parent-child attachment index, and parent-child involvement index (Bell, 2009, p.374). The sense of safety at school, neighborhood, and the level of peer violence were used to measure the individual’s reaction to the environment. The study also included control variables, such as age, race, a number of school dropouts, and the presence of the immigrant status of the respondents (Bell, 2009, p.374). The huge amount of the collected data allows to thoroughly study the significant number of factors that lead to gang involvement, the understanding of which can help to establish whether there is a real difference between the influence such factors have on males and females and that make them become involved in gangs.
The limitations of the study demonstrate the lack of information about the gang involvement of Hispanics. It was established that although Hispanic females are more predisposed to join gangs, the first-generation immigrant girls were, on the contrary, less likely to be involved in criminal activities. This fact may be explained by greater parental control applied due to their introduction to a new culture. Thus, the future research should be conducted, including race and ethnicity factors,. It is also assumed that future studies should include the research on how gang involvement influences delinquency and victimization, and how different gang types affect gender. Also, the study was limited by quantitative research, and it is suggested that a combination of quantitative and qualitative researches should be used to get clearer results concerning gender differences (Bell, 2009, p.380).
Since the study found great similarities between the factors that contribute to males’ and females’ involvement in gangs, it may be concluded that the hypothesis was not proved. Family and neighborhood disadvantages, exposure to violent peers, and the safety factor influence boys and girls in a similar way (Bell, 2009, p.379). These findings also support traditional theories of crime which state that men and women are involved in criminal activities in the same way. However, it should be mentioned that some gender differences were found during the assessment of the data concerning boys and girls of different race, ethnicities, and immigrant statuses (Bell, 2009, p.380). Due to the lack of information concerning the differences between the gang involvement of representatives of distinct races and ethnicities, it may be stated that the objectives of discovering whether there are clear differences between the factors that contribute to males’ and females’ involvement in gangs were not met. It is obvious that the study requires further research.
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The study of the child and youth gang involvement raises a number of ethical questions and reminds of the existence of the range of social issues. Although Bell’s research did not discover any differences between the risk factors that cause male and female gang involvement, it nevertheless showed that there is a great number of reasons, such as neighborhood disadvantages, criminal rate, drug, alcohol, and sexual abuse at home that can make a child join a gang, and later become involved in criminal activities. It is important to remind parents to monitor their kids, their kids’ activities, and that of their peers in order to prevent unnecessary contacts with problematic and dubious companies.
Bell’s article demonstrates that a quantitative study can be successfully used to conduct any social researches and to prove or refute specific theories. However, although the quantitative approach allows to examine and analyze a huge amount of data and to bring significant results, it still requires additional information provided by other types of research in order to understand the entire size of the problem. A quantitative study provides a great statistical data, but it can not completely explain the commonness of the issue. Thus, it may be assumed that a profound sociological study requires a comprehensive approach which includes a combination of distinct orientations of the study.