Ethnic Identity and Offending Trajectories Among Mexican American Juvenile Offenders: Gang Membership and Psychosocial Maturity


  • The research was supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2000-MU-MU-0007), the National Institute of Justice (199-IJ-CX-0053), the National Institute of Drug Abuse (R01 DA019697-01), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Center for Disease Control, The William Penn Foundation, The Arizona Governor's Justice Commission, and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. We are grateful for their support. The content of this paper, however, is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of these agencies. We thank Adriana Umaña-Taylor and Jeffrey Fagan for suggestions on this manuscript and Davood Tofighi for assistance with preliminary analyses.
  • Young Il Cho is now at the Department of Psychology, Sungshin Women's University, Seoul, South Korea.

Requests for reprints should be sent to George P. Knight, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, Box 871104, Tempe, AZ 85287-1104. E-mail:


We examined the association of joint trajectories of ethnic identity and criminal offending to psychosocial maturity, gang membership, and Mexican American affiliation among 300 Mexican American male juvenile offenders from ages 14 to 22. There were two low-offending groups: one was the highest in ethnic identity and changing slightly with age and the other was the lowest in ethnic identity and stable with age. A third group displayed moderately declining offending and moderately stable ethnic identity. A fourth group displayed high-offending individuals with moderate, but increasing, levels of ethnic identity, who were initially lower in psychosocial maturity and more likely to be gang members. The findings highlight the need to contextualize theories of ethnic identity development.