Juvenile delinquency and small families

In the pub yesterday we were talking about the relationship between the rise in juvenile delinquency and the lack of parenting skills. One of us pointed out that until relatively recently large (6+ children) families were not unusual if not quite the norm. In such families, the older children would be able to learn about childcare from an early age, and the younger children would benefit from their parents’ prior experience and from seeing the children of their older siblings. Richer parents had fewer children, but they were cared for by servants.

No-one seemed to have thought much about it beyond that, but it seems interesting, so I turn to the Dope.

Is this a valid relationship? If so, how can we correct it’s current lack?

Actually, a higher number of children in the household has, exclusive of other factors, been associated with increased rates of delinquency. The ideal circumstances you suggest may be operative for the unusual family, or perhaps in the absence of risk factors, but more children mean increased parental stress and family burden, decreased parental attention and decreased resources. I’ll take a look in the literature again to see if there are any examples of larger numbers of children in the household serving a protective function, but I’m skeptical of finding any.

But is that because the parents themselves came from small families and thus did not have the opportunity to learn?

Equally, the large families I’m talking about were 100+ years ago, so modern-day statistics may not be relevant. Mind you, when I was young, we had a wonderful au pair who was the eldest of 8.

Here’s a brief snippet from a larger review on predictors of antisocial behavior that David Farrington wrote recently.

Farrington, D. P. (2005). Childhood origins of antisocial behavior. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 12, 177–190.

The explanation for these findings is not clear. Farrington briefly reviews literature on explanatory factors, suggesting that they may include characteristics of the parent, parenting behaviors, economic factors, or the fact that increased exposure to delinquent siblings may ge more likely in larger families.

I can’t say for sure, but it does not really seem all that likely an explanation to me. I know of no link between poor parenting skills or beahviors and coming from a small family. The weight of the evidence suggests that larger family size is predictive of delinquent or antisocial behavior, not that it begets positive outcomes, like good parenting.

Why not? And if not, what would be the point of trying to explore it. Clearly, in our modern-day times, large family size tends to be predictive of poorer outcomes. Perhaps we can wax nostalgic together about the good old days, but that doesn’t mean that they were actually good old days.

That’s super. My wife came from a family of 10, and is the greatest person I know. I came from a family with two other sons, and I am very law abiding and am thus far a good parent.

The purpose of statistics, as you know, is to move beyond anecdotal data and determine what the general relationship is between two variables across a number of people. In the case of large families in the present day, it is one of an increased likelihood of delinquency among children from large families.

Once again the SDMB turns up trumps. Thank you, Hentor.

You are not wrong.

Not a problem - studying antisocial behavior is my gig.