One Parent Households And Adolescent Delinquency Sociology Essay

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Marriage and divorce are very complex subjects but more important are the effects that they have on the adolescents and the homes they come from. In the United States, about 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce (Videon, 2002). This will affect the family and children in many different ways. What is in the best interest of the children is something that is not often considered enough and neither is how a divorce will affect the children later in life. All aspects of an adolescent's life should be considered if they choose to become involved in criminal activity, not just if they were affected by divorce.

According to most Americans, the idea of a family would be a father, a mother, and their children. In Hawaii, the Hawaiian word for family is "ohana." However, the ohana may consist of more people than the average family members. These members of the ohana may include parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even friends that are not blood related. Furthermore, it is common to see a child being raised by other members in the ohana. For example, a child may be raised by a grandparent while the parents live somewhere else.

This is an important area of research because it is designed to answer, "Does being raised in a one-parent household leads to greater levels of crime for adolescents?" With many different types of families existing in the United States, this study will show whether this pattern holds in a diverse setting like Hawaii. Despite how hard it may be growing up in a one-parent household, adolescents can overcome the stereotypical label of being delinquents with good behavior. There are many components that go into delinquency and breaking the law but the number of parents does not necessarily lead someone to a life of crime. This study further seeks to determine whether the concept of ohana serves to protect juveniles from crime, even within a one-parent household.

Literature Review

Traditionally people are conditioned to think of the family unit as a healthful and nurturing environment in which children prosper and parents realize their full potential, but that is not the case in all situations. Broken homes are homes where there is only one biological parent present for whatever reason (Juby & Farrington, 2001). One of the main reasons for broken homes is due to a divorce between parents which ultimately affects the child in many ways.

Delinquency among adolescents is due to a large range of factors and can include effects of divorce but is not limited to only that. "To think of the family as a potential cause or correlate of crime is not something that society as a whole is conditioned to do. Although, not ignoring the family environment many criminologists have tended to seek explanations for crime in contextual conditions such as poverty, inequality, school failure, and broken homes as a result of delinquency" (Straus & Lincoln, 1985).


Divorce hurts everyone who is touched by it or has to experience it first hand; it is not something that just parents are affected by. One of the major functions of the family is to protect, teach, and train children so they can grow up to be competent and productive adults. Divorce is steadily rising in today's society with fifty percent of all marriages ending in divorce (Price & Kunz, 2003). Due to this high average of divorce, the children in the home are being affected in a negative way. If children are not given the attention that is needed to help them through such an ordeal, the divorce may have an impact on the whole family. Juveniles that come from broken homes tend to be processed at higher rates than juveniles that come from intact families (Gove & Crutchfield, 1982).

The research on divorce can go either way by having good effects and bad effects but it has been proven as an important factor on the relationship between broken homes and delinquency. In 1991, a meta-analysis revealed that delinquency in broken homes is higher than intact homes by 10-15 percent (Rankin and Wells as cited in Price & Kunz, 2003). Research conducted by the Texas Youth Authority in 2001 shows that three out of four adolescents committed to state correctional facilities come from homes that have experienced divorce, parents remarrying, or separation (Gelles, 1989).

A number of studies have been carried out to show if there is a real connection between broken homes and delinquency. Some evidence supports the commonly notion that delinquency results from a broken home. Rebellon (2002) conducted a sample of 1,725 adolescents between the ages of eleven and seventeen. Results suggest that broken homes are strongly associated with a range of delinquent behaviors, including minor status offenses and more severe property/violent offenses (Rebellon, 2002). Sheldon Glueck and Eleanor Glueck's study which compared five hundred delinquents and five hundred nondelinquents reported that 60.4 percent of delinquents came from broken homes compared to 34.2 percent of nondelinquents (Demuth & Brown, 2004).

Using data from the 1995 National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health) of a sample of more than 20,000 adolescents in grades seven through twelve, Demuth and Brown (2004) compared delinquent behavior among adolescents in two-biological parent married families, single-mother families, single-father families, mother-stepfather families, and father-stepmother families. This study found that the adolescents in single-father household constitute the highest levels of delinquency. In contrast, two-biological parent married families make up the lowest level of adolescents committing crime. Adolescents in single-mother and stepfamilies fall in the middle (Demuth, et al, 2004).

Divorce is the most common factor in adolescents and delinquency but it is important to remember it is not the only thing that affects a choice of breaking the law. The environment and attitudes of those in their immediate family and friends also will play a large role. Studies have shown that adolescents changes depends on the relationship with their parents and themselves regardless, if they are divorced or not (May, Vartanian & Virgo, 2002). How parents enforce the rules fairly will help build a stronger relationship because their children will respect them and accept their authority. When looking at the full picture a divorce that is bad and affects the children in a negative way can lead to delinquency, but a divorce that ends well and does not have a negative effect on the children will not necessarily lead to delinquency.


Research concludes that there are no mechanisms linking broken homes to delinquency but there are three leading perspectives that can attempt to explain the broken homes and delinquency link. These theories include: the control theory, the learning perspective, and the strain perspective. Each theory has its own viewpoint on why adolescents act the way they do whether good or bad and describes how the family plays a role in adolescent's behavior.

The control theory has three components: social bond, direct control, and self-control. Social bond theory suggests that individuals engage in delinquency to the degree that they fail to "(1) form a strong affective attachment to their parents or caregivers; (2) develop a stake in conformity that promotes rational commitment to conventional norms; (3) seek behavioral involvement in conventional activities; and (4) adopt a strong belief that conventional norms merit respect" (Hirschi as cited in Rebellon, 2002). The social bond theory explains broken homes through the four elements stated above and the lack of commitment that one gains through these bonds. Without them adolescents are more likely to not be successful in society.

Direct control is another component of the control theory and offers an alternative explanation of the link between broken homes and delinquency. "The conflict-ridden and single-parent households hamper a parent's ability to set appropriate rules, monitor children, recognize rule violations, and sanction inappropriate behavior" (Patterson, Rankin and Wells, as cited in Rebellon, 2002). Those abilities listed above show direct control of a parent over an adolescent and can stimulate a good relationship between them thus making the adolescent less likely to partake in criminal activities.

The last component of the control theory is self-control. In a study conducted by Gottredson and Hirschi in 1990, they agreed that delinquency occurs when parents fail to monitor and sanction inappropriate behavior. "When children lack self-control they are unable and unwilling to delay immediate gratification, and provided with the opportunity, they engage in delinquency to satiate immediate desires" (Rebellon, 2002).

The learning perspective implicates the peer group and relationship as a link between broken homes and delinquency. According to social learning theory, youths are influenced in delinquency activities when they hang out with peers that commit deviant behaviors (Rebellon, 2002). The peer group that one associates with can be a positive and negative thing depending on the activities youth participate in. During the years of adolescents youth are going through many issues and one of those issues is youth trying to find themselves and their identity.

Symbolic interactionism is a strong element of the learning perspective and is explained by the meaning that adolescents give to the symbols that they see (Cullen & Agnew, 2003). This means that adolescents relate to what they see around them which helps them to develop who they are in the long run and where they want to go with their lives. Good behavior can promote good actions and develop a successful person in society.

The strain perspective explains broken homes as criminal behavior is encouraged by preventing individuals from achieving valued goals (Rebellon, 2002). In other words, the strain perspective puts adolescents under pressure for helping with financial issues of the family which in turn causes them to break the law. Children show their stresses from different situations in different ways depending on how they were taught to cope with them. If children feel rejected by their parents they will act out in ways to get any type of attention whether it is good or bad.

All three of these theories explain how adolescents view and incorporate everything that they are facing as they grow up together. When adolescents incorporate all three theories together they may use parts of each theory to develop individual attitudes and personalities. Each situation is unique and so are the environments they come from. Two children from the same family and environment may cope and handle their own situation differently. Through these theories research obtains the best understanding of the broken homes and delinquency concept of explaining why adolescents do what they do in regards to their actions or inactions.


Poverty is a major role player in divorce and an explanation for why adolescents sometimes feel like they have to break the law to gain respect in society. Frequently, broken homes only have one source of income which can make attaining basic needs very difficult. Often parents get some type of assistance from the state or some other type of funding to help with the needs of the family (Unnever, Cullen, & Agnew, 2006). However, adolescents want more at times than their parents can provide for them, or they may feel pressure to help take care of the family which may lead to criminal activity.

The role of poverty in the development of delinquency is not a recent issue to society or something they have never seen before. For some adolescents, being financially disadvantaged decreases their ability to compete in the school environment (Pagani, Boulerice, Vitaro, & Tremblay, 1999). In a study conducted by Gottfredson & Hirschi, they found that "a significant relationship between sustained underclass status and repeated involvement in serious crime in 8th and 9th graders followed over a period of 2 years was extremely high" (Pagani, et al, 1999). Thus, this shows that adolescents are feeling that in order for them to pave a way through society they must attain their wants and needs illegally.

The changing nature of the economy has a lot to do with how and why people attain social class. As a result of having less money people are more likely to express themselves violently and be involved in delinquent behaviors. Furthermore, members of the underclass comprise the bulk of the juvenile and adolescent populations which are the most frequent clients of the criminal justice system (Keller, Catalano, Haggerty & Fleming, 2002). Broken homes and one-parent homes has a lot to do with poverty and delinquency. However, the point to be stressed is that family structure, poverty, and the poverty environment may combine in such a way that high rates of crime and delinquency are likely to result.



The method that will be use to collect data is a quantitative model based on a survey. The survey will consist of twenty questions including a mix of multiple choice and "yes" or "no" questions for the sample to answer. Also, the survey includes instructions on how to fill out the survey appropriately. The questions on the survey were chosen in accordance to determine if there is a correlation between one-parent households and criminal activity among adolescents. This will be done by asking questions pertaining to one-parent households and whether the adolescents in the home had committed any crimes. Questions about two-parent household will be included as well. The demographics that will be use are to show if there is a correlation between one-parent households and two-parent households and the criminal activity among the adolescents in the home.

The survey was put together based on questions found valid to the sample. The questions will range from age and gender of the individual to questions about their family life and the environment they were raised in. Using questions about the environment that they were raised in, would help determine if being raised in a one-parent household would contribute or deter adolescents from committing crimes versus being raised in a two-parent household. It will also help to find out if the concept of ohana protects adolescents from crimes. The site of the research will be done in Hawaii.

Because the participants will be filling out a survey, the issue of validity and reliability may be a major limitation because respondents may not answer the questions honestly. Some respondents may not take the research seriously and not be completely honest with their criminal activity. This can limit the research by giving false information that may affect the results.


The dependant variable in this research is criminal activity among adolescents. The independent variable is one-parent household. It will be important to understand the conceptualization and operationalization for this research. The conceptualization of criminal activity is any act of breaking the law by the adolescents. The operationalization of criminal activity will be if the respondent answered "yes" on the survey to the question if they ever committed any type of crime during their adolescent years.

Population and Samples

The target population will be targeted towards male and female graduate students from Chaminade University. This specific target population will help to obtain more diverse answers from the respondents regarding how they were raised. The sample of this research will be both male and female students because this information will include a wide range of people. The surveys will be distributed to different graduate classes at Chaminade University which is a small private college in Honolulu, Hawaii. Prior to surveys being distributed, permission will be received from the professor of the class and the students participating in it. Since the surveys will be collected when the respondents are done taking it, this will increase the response rate.

In order to discover the findings of this research, surveys will be passed out to students based on a non-probability convenience sample. It is a non-probability sample because the respondents participating are not randomly chosen. This method of convenience sampling will be chosen because it is the most convenient method given the limited amount of time and resources to complete this research project. The goal is to distribute 100 surveys to the students because this amount of information will be able to strengthen the findings. However, the results cannot be generalized to the whole population of Honolulu, Hawaii.

Data Management and Analysis

Once all the surveys are administered and collected, the data will be inputted into a Statistical Program for the Social Science (SPSS) to be able to read the data. Each survey will be coded with a number system. Using the program on SPSS will help sort and analyze the data, which will save time. The information from all 100 surveys will be put into the computer and statistical tests will be created to determine if there is any correlation between one-parent household and criminal activity among adolescents. These tests will help look at each category and the answers that were given by the individuals.

Ethical Considerations

During the research, there will be no physical or psychological harm brought upon the individuals at anytime. Given that survey is the instrument that will be use to collect data for this research, the survey will have a cover sheet that clarifies to the participants the purpose of this research. It will also tell participants their personal rights and that they are free to stop the survey at anytime. The participants will be informed that the research is strictly confidential and voluntary. Their identity will be kept anonymous. A consent form will be distributed to the individual before the surveys are taken. The participant must designate if they agree or disagree to participate in the research after reading over the consent form and then initial their name at the bottom of the form. The consent form will be place in a safe location where no one will be able to gain access to this document.


Divorce is something that affects everyone involved in some way or another but it is not just limited to the parents and too often parents forget about how their child can be influenced later in life. Delinquency among adolescents is due to a large range of factors and can include affects of divorce but is not limited to only that factor. Where children are raised and by who, the amount of adults in their everyday lives, their peer groups, and their level of family income all play some role in an adolescent's life. Poverty is another factor that plays a huge role in delinquency. Broken homes that only have one parent are often affected financially which can lead adolescents to attain their financial needs elsewhere.

Broken homes and one-parent household go hand in hand but the simple fact has yet to be proven that one leads to an excuse for the other. There is evidence that some studies have shown that there is a connection between broken homes and delinquency among adolescents. Some research has been conducted on this topic, but it continues to become more of a problem as the criminal activity increases. This study will be useful because it will show if this pattern holds in a diverse setting like Hawaii. However, the results to this research are important because one-parent households and criminal activity among adolescents is something that can be helped at a young age before adolescents get into the criminal justice system. The findings can be taken and analyzed to determine what is one of the main factors of criminal activity among adolescents which can be applied to adolescents therefore giving them the attention and counseling they need to handle divorce and growing up in a one-parent household.