School Social Organization and Violence


Pinchak, Nicolo P. (2023). School Social Organization and Violence.


Decades of theory and policy suggest that schools characterized by heightened social cohesion—such as more positive social climates and dense ties among students—are better equipped to reduce student involvement in violence and delinquency. However, the evidence supporting this expectation is inconsistent. In this dissertation I seek to understand why, with three studies assessing how features of school social organization combine to shape student involvement in violence and delinquency. These studies are conducted using extensive individual- and school-level data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) and the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement study. The first study tests alternative hypotheses regarding how the association between school-level positive social climate and adolescent violence varies according to the school-level density of student network ties. Foregrounding research on youth norm enforcement suggests that the violence-reducing benefits of a positive social climate will be enhanced in schools where students are more densely tied to each other. In contrast, research on youth conflict and subversion of social control anticipates that the association between school-level social climate and violence will be most evident in schools where students are sparsely tied. Hypotheses are tested with data from Waves I and II of Add Health. Consistent with the conflict/subversion perspective, the inverse association between school-level social climate and adolescent violence is less evident as schoollevel network density increases. These findings suggest that school climate initiatives
should pay careful attention to how dense friendships among students may limit reductions in problem behavior. The second study tests alternative hypotheses regarding how school cohort-level variation in the rate of same-grade friendships shapes students’ violence perpetration. Social capital theories anticipate that cohorts with higher rates of same-grade friendships will be characterized by more social support and ultimately less violence among students. Research on youth bullying and conflict suggests the opposite, anticipating that heightened rates of same-grade friendships in a cohort leads to more strain and interpersonal conflict, and ultimately more violence among students. These hypotheses are tested with data from Waves I and II of Add Health. Results indicate that youth in cohorts with a higher rate of same-grade friendships are more involved in violence, even after controlling lagged violence and a host of other cohort-level characteristics. These results call attention to how variation in school grade-level social and structural factors work together to shape adolescent well-being.The third study investigates how the positive association between adolescent delinquency and status varies across schools. Specifically, it first assesses how the status delinquency relationship among high schoolers varies according to how socially cohesive
their school is. It then considers whether the consequences of status extend to criminal involvement during early adulthood. Hypotheses are tested with data from Waves I and III of Add Health. Status in high school (closeness centrality) is associated with heightened adolescent delinquency, especially for respondents who attended schools characterized by more positive social climates or dense student network ties. This pattern
extends to crime perpetration in early adulthood among males, and is most evident for those who are unmarried, working less than full-time, college-going, or living closer to their adolescent home. These results suggest that one reason for the mixed success of school social cohesion initiatives is that these could reinforce delinquency among highstatus youth. Beyond schools and youth, this furthermore suggests that the association between status and antisocial behavior is most pronounced for men operating within more
socially cohesive organizations, with consequences lasting even after exiting these organizations. Taken together, these studies suggest that the social cohesiveness of schools has significant and long-term consequences for students, but in countervailing ways. A positive school social climate can reduce students’ involvement in violence and delinquency, but this benefit is conditioned by the degree of connectivity between students and an individuals’ social standing at school. Similarly, having more same-grade friends can be protective for youth, but higher rates of these friendships in one’s school grade can increase students’ violence involvement. These findings align with calls to direct attention away from schools and toward interventions addressing students’ family and early-life environments, which evidently yield more reliable returns to well-being across the life course.

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Book Title



Pinchak, Nicolo P.

Series Author(s)

Browning, Christopher R.

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The Ohio State University

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