Strains and delinquency of migrant adolescents in China : a study from the perspective of general strain theory

中國流動青少年的壓力和越軌行為 : 以一般化緊張理論為視角

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Yunjiao GAO


Awarding Institution
Award date3 Oct 2014


Since the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s, internal migration has become prevalent in China. In the early period, migrants mostly migrated alone, leaving their family members at home. Since the mid-1990s, there has been an increasing number of migrants moving with their children, and with a massive influx of migrant labor in cities, there are also more and more migrant children in urban China. Due to frequent mobility and restriction of the houseold registration system, migrant adolescents experience numerous strains, and they are frequently found to be overrepresented in the official data of incarcerated delinquents. However, empirical studies exploring delinquency of migrant youth and in particular the effect of strains on their delinquent behavior are scarce. To fill the gap, the present study focuses on studying their strains, including academic, economic, discrimination, neighborhood risk, and parental maltreatment, and adopts general strain theory to investigate the relationships between strains and delinquency of migrant adolescents. This study aims to acquire a basic understanding of the strains and delinquency of migrant adolescents, and to understand the mechanism of how the strains push them to the edge of delinquency by investigating the mediating effects of state negative emotions (anger and depression), social control, and delinquent peer affiliation. In order to achieve a clearer picture of the situations of migrant adolescents, a sample of local adolescents is used as the reference group. Independent sample t-tests and path analyses are conducted to achieve these purposes. Drawing data from 667 migrant and 496 local youth, the present study shows that migrant adolescents suffer significantly higher levels of strains, negative emotions, delinquent peer affiliation, and lower level of social control than their local counterparts. Despite these differences, there are no significant differences between the two groups in the rates of general delinquency, violent offenses, and property-related offenses. It is noteworthy that migrant adolescents are found to commit more status offenses than the local youth. According to the path analyses, the findings demonstrate that strains are more likely to directly result in delinquency among migrant adolescents than local youth. Social control and delinquent peer affiliation play an important role in relating the strains to delinquency. Inconsistent with the assumption of general strain theory, strain-induced depressive emotions could not motivate migrant adolescents to engage in delinquency, and anger is just a weak predictor of delinquency. Although anger and depression responding to most strains do not have direct effects on delinquency, they may lead to delinquency through weakening the level of social control or increasing delinquent peer affiliation. To conclude, although migrant adolescents show an incredible resilience to delinquency, they are more prone to become delinquents than the local youth. The strains they suffered seem to bear great responsibility for their delinquent behavior. Based on the findings of this study, practical implications for preventing the delinquency of migrant adolescents are proposed. These suggestions include refining the government system and expanding youth social work services in China.

    Research areas

  • Mental health, Juvenile delinquency, Internal migrants, Mental health surveys, Teenagers, China, Stress in adolescence