60-Second Mind

Youth Gang Membership Affects Mental Health Later in Life

Adults who had been members of gangs in their adolescence had poorer outcomes on a variety of measures, including physical and mental health, than those who'd never been in a gang. Christie Nicholson reports


Peers can have a big influence on a person’s behavior, especially in adolescence. And one choice of peers during those crucial years makes a profound difference later in life: and that is becoming a member of a gang.
Researchers assembled a cohort of more than 800 fifth-graders and then followed them for the next 23 years.

The research team ultimately identified 173 individuals from the starting group who wound up in gangs, and then matched them with another 173 non-gang-members as a control. Both groups of kids had similar habits, including comparable drug and alcohol use. They lived in similar environments and socioeconomic conditions, and did as well academically.
But by the time they’d reached the ages of 27 to 33, the ones who’d spent time in gangs were three times more likely to have committed a crime and had double the incarceration rates as did those who avoided gang life. The ex-gang bangers also ran a three-fold risk of substance addiction, were twice as likely to say they were in poor health and had a 50 percent drop in high school graduation.
The study is in the American Journal of Public Health. [Amanda B. Gilman, Karl G. Hill and J. David Hawkins, Long-Term Consequences of Adolescent Gang Membership for Adult Functioning]
The researchers say that preventing kids from joining gangs thus appears to have numerous beneficial outcomes—including better physical and mental health as adults.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]  

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