Are Immigrant Youth Less Violent?

Specifying the Reasons and Mechanisms

Published in: The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Volume 641, Issue 1(May 2012), pp. 125 - 147. doi: 10.1177/0002716211432279

Posted on RAND.org on June 30, 2017

by John MacDonald, Jessica Saunders

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In this article, the authors present an overview of the relationship between immigrant households and crime and violence, drawing on sociological and public health literature. They present a critique of popular culture perspectives on immigrant families and youth violence, showing that crime and violence outcomes are if anything better for youth in immigrant families than one would expect given the social disadvantages that many immigrant households find themselves living in. They examine the extent to which exposure to violence among immigrant youth is comparably lower than among nonimmigrants living in similar social contexts and the extent to which social control and social learning frameworks can account for the apparent lower prevalence of violence exposure among immigrant youth. Their analyses show a persistent lower rate of violence exposure for immigrant youth compared to similarly situated nonimmigrant youth — and that these differences are not meaningfully understood by observed social control or social learning mechanisms. The authors focus then on the apparent paradox of why youth living in immigrant households in relative disadvantage have lower violence exposure compared to nonimmigrants living in similar social contexts. The answers, they argue, can be viewed from an examination of the effects that living in poverty and underclass neighborhoods for generations has on nonimmigrants in American cities.

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