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Upbringing rather than neighbourhood determines delinquency

Media Release

25 February 2011

New research into whether it is "neighbourhood" or upbringing that more determines juvenile antisocial behaviour has been released by the Australian Institute of Criminology.

The groundbreaking research used data from the Mater University Study of Pregnancy which has followed a group of children since their birth. This was meshed with data on South East Queensland statistical local areas as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

"Geographic disadvantage was found to have a limited influence on behaviour. The research team found the major factors affecting adolescent antisocial behaviour were family dynamics, poor school performance, and early childhood aggression," principal author Dr Tara Renae McGee said.

"The study found that the variation in antisocial behaviour attributable to the statistical local area, that is, the neighbourhood, was less than one per cent.

"However, several early childhood variables significantly predicted antisocial behaviour, such as a higher number of maternal births and higher maternal alcohol consumption, shorter relationships between the mother and her partner, maternal smoking and the number of times the child had lived with someone else," Dr McGee said.

Poor school performance - as rated by the child at age 14 - was strongly associated with higher rates of antisocial behaviour. Young people living in families that communicated reported lower antisocial behaviour. This is related to parental supervision—when children disclose activities to their parents, the parents can more effectively monitor behaviour.

The study was funded by the Criminology Research Council.

AIC media contact: Colin Campbell 02 6260 9244 / 0418 787 181

Summary

Antisocial behaviour: An examination of individual, family, and neighbourhood factors

Previous research has rarely examined the inter-dependence of individual, family and neighbourhood factors on antisocial behaviour.

This paper is the first of its kind to examine the dynamic relationship between individual and social factors and their relationship to antisocial behaviour across statistical local areas (SLA) in southeast Queensland. It draws on the Mater University Study of Pregnancy (MUSP) and Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data to examine antisocial behaviour in adolescents.

Antisocial behaviour identified in the research includes setting fires, truancy, stealing, running away from home and hurting others.

The maternal factors in the study included number of births, maternal age, alcohol consumption, smoking, parenting style, relationship issues, and how well the family communicated.

The child factors included child aggression, how often the child had lived with someone else, and school performance. Neighbourhood variables included neighbourhood disadvantage, immigration concentration and residential mobility.

The study found that the variation in antisocial behaviour attributable to the SLA, that is, the neighbourhood, was less than one per cent. This means high levels of antisocial behaviour are not concentrated in particular SLAs.

However, several early childhood variables significantly predicted antisocial behaviour, such as a higher number of maternal births and higher maternal alcohol consumption.

A poor relationship between the parents also contributed to antisocial behaviour, and childhood aggression at age five strongly predicted antisocial behaviour at 14 years of age.

At age 14, poor school performance (as rated by the child) was strongly associated with higher rates of antisocial behaviour. Young people living in families with effective communication reported lower antisocial behaviour. This is related to parental supervision—when children disclose activities to their parents, the parents can more effectively monitor behaviour.

Maternal factors were also associated with antisocial behaviour—for example, shorter relationships between the mother and her partner, maternal smoking and the number of times the child had lived with someone else.

When examining the SLA effects, only the level of disadvantage came close to predicting higher levels of antisocial behaviour. The study found that disadvantage may exacerbate antisocial behaviour, but its effects are secondary to other factors.

Findings generated by this research will help in the development of policies that deal with young people and crime prevention. It will also help policymakers deal with antisocial behaviour by targeting a more comprehensive range of indicators associated with its prevalence.