Abstract: Violence, Race/Ethnicity, and American Youth: Patterns, Trends, and Correlates (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

13525 Violence, Race/Ethnicity, and American Youth: Patterns, Trends, and Correlates

Thursday, January 14, 2010: 4:30 PM
Seacliff D (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
John M. Wallace Jr, PhD , University of Pittsburgh, Associate Professor, Pittsburgh, PA
Michael A. Yonas, Dr PH , University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Assistant Professor, Pittsburgh, PA
Youth violence remains one of America's most pressing public health problems. In fact, the homicide rate for youth in the United States is the highest in the world. Other key indicators of the magnitude of America's violence problem include the number of youth treated each year in hospital emergency departments (750,000 in 2004), the number young people killed each year (5,570 in 2003), the ratio of non-fatal intentional injuries to homicides (94:1), and the annual cost of youth violence to society ($158 billion in health care costs, reduce productivity, decrease property value, incarceration). Although, violence impacts all Americans, its impact is particularly acute among young people of color, with homicide being the leading cause of death for African American youth, the second leading cause for Hispanic youth, and the third leading cause for American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Asian/Pacific Islanders.

In an effort to better understand the patterns, trends and correlates of the nations' youth violence problem, the present study uses large (N = 21,671), nationally representative samples of White, African American, Hispanic, Asian American, and American Indian youth to address four distinct, yet related questions: First, how prevalent is violence among American young people? Second, to what extent does the prevalence vary by race/ethnicity? Third, how has youth violence changed over time? Fourth, does taking into account differences in key socio-demographic factors help to explain racial/ethnic differences in violence? The specific violence measures that we examine include the frequency with which young people have carried a weapon to school, gotten in a serious fight at work or school, gotten in a group fight, or injured someone badly enough to require medical attention.

Prevalence data indicate that violence is widespread among American youth. For example, among 8th graders, 21 percent report being involved in a serious fight in the last year, 24 percent were in a group fight, 16 percent hurt someone badly enough to require medical attention and 4 percent report that they carried a weapon to school in the last month. Trend data from 1991-2007 indicate that the prevalence of weapon carrying has decreased substantially over time for all groups while fighting, group fighting and reports of seriously hurting someone have remained relatively constant.

On average, violence is highest among American Indian, African American, and Hispanic youth, among males, among younger students, among students who do not live with both of their parents, among students whose parents are least educated, and among students who have higher discretionary incomes. Multivariate logistic regression analyses, in which key socio-demographic factor are controlled, suggest that elevated violence rates among non-white youth result, at least in part, from their socio-economic disadvantage relative to White youth.

Future research should seek to discover the mechanisms by which socio-demographic factors may help explain racial/ethnic differences in youth violence. Future research should also examine within and between group racial/ethnic differences in individual, family, peer and community-level factors that increase young people's involvement in violence.