Siblings and Delinquent Behavior: An Exploratory Study of a Neglected Family Variable


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: This article is based on data gathered as part of a larger study of community tolerance and measures of delinquency supported by a grant from the NIMH. The authors wish to express their gratitude to the entire research staff (especially James Creechan and Gary Jensen) for thier work in gathering the data and preparing it for analysis and to Kirk Williams and Larry Petersen for their reviews fo earlier drafts of this article.

  • Karen Wilkinson is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Memphis State University. Her research interests include the relationship between sex roles and delinquency and the influence of family variables on delinquency. Her previous publications concerning delinquency have focused on the broken home.

  • B. Grant Stitt is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Memphis State University. His research interests include deterrence as a perceptual phenomena, and ethicalawareness of practitioners in criminal justice.

  • Maynard L. Erickson is Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona, Tucson. He has published extensively in the fields of juvenile delinquency, criminology, evaluational research and juvenile delinquency policy. His current research activities involve tests of deterrence theory and assessing current juvenile justice policies in the United States.


This exploratory article examines the relation between sibling structure (sex of siblings and birth order) and self-reported delinquency. The processes of contrast and imitation, conceptual notions derived from research on sibling structure and sex roles, are used to guide this exploration. Considerable variation in delinquency by sibling status was identified. There are indications that an interaction effect exists between birth order and sex of siblings relative to rates of delinquency.