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Family Relationships and Crime - Siblings And Crime

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Studies of family relationships and crime have commonly centered on parent-child influence. Generally, if included at all, siblings are mentioned only in passing. Daniel Glaser, Bernard Lander, and William Abbott, however, focused on siblings when asking why some people become drug addicts. Three pairs of sisters and thirty-four pairs of brothers living in a slum area of New York City responded to questions asked in interviews by a former addict and a former gang leader. One member of each pair had never used heroin, whereas the other had been an addict. Results of this study suggested that the typical addict was about two years younger than the nonaddicted sibling, spent less time at home, left school at a younger age, and began having relationships with persons of the opposite sex when younger. The interviews did not yield evidence of systematic differences between addicts and their siblings regarding parental affection or expectations for success. Like the Finnish adolescents studied by Pulkkinen, and the British delinquents in the Farrington and West sample, the addicts appear to have had peers for their reference groups. Unfortunately, relatively little is known about why some children adopt peers instead of family as reference groups.

Differences in sex, intelligence, and physique provide partial answers to why one child in a family develops problems and another does not. In addition, several studies show that even after controlling for family size (delinquents tend to come from larger families), middle children are more likely to be delinquents than are their oldest or youngest siblings. Rutter suggests that parental actions could be the determinant, with delinquent children tending to be those who were singled out for abuse by quarreling parents.

Farrington and West analyzed criminal records among the families of the 411 London boys they studied. Having a criminal brother, they discovered, was approximately as criminogenic as having a criminal father. Data from Minnesota confirm the apparent criminogenic impact of sibling criminality. In 1974, Merrill Roff traced criminal records of approximately thirteen hundred sets of siblings born between 1950 and 1953. Males whose siblings had juvenile court records were about one and a half times as likely to have court records themselves as were those whose siblings did not have such records. Furthermore, those whose brothers had been juvenile delinquents were about twice as likely to have adult criminal convictions as those who were the only juvenile delinquents in the family.

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