Academic Achievement: Violent vs. Nonviolent Offending

In addition to evidence of an association between violence and academic achievement, the studies reviewed here also suggest that a differential association between academic achievement and violence may exist, though our conclusion is somewhat tentative on this point. Our hesitation is driven first because most studies also report that the association between nonviolent offending and violence is also significant, though there are too few of these to draw firm conclusions, and second, because the direct comparisons provide only weak support. Our own analyses, discussed below, tip the balance in favor of a positive conclusion.

As we just pointed out, academic achievement has been consistently associated with nonviolent offending in comparisons reported thus far. Owens-Sabir (2007) used a large-scale high school survey and found that both interpersonal delinquency and property delinquency were significantly associated with grades. Bernburg and Thorlindsson (1999) found that school performance was associated with violent and nonviolent offending. Brownlie et al. (2004) reported the same pattern for violent and nonviolent offending as did Johnson (1979). Similarly, Rebellon and van Gundy (2005) reported that educational success was associated with subsequent violence and property crime.

In four studies with direct comparisons, two are favorable with respect to our hypothesis, one is lukewarm and one is contradictory. Hart, O’Toole, Price-Sharps, and Shaffer (2007) found that violent adolescents had significantly lower GPAs than nonviolent delinquent adolescents. Loeber et al. (2005) reported that low academic achievement was significantly more common among violent compared to nonviolent offenders (Loeber, Pardini, Homish, Wei, Crawford, Farrington, et al., 2005). Piquero (2000) reported the association was in the right direction but not statistically significant, and Tarter et al. (1983) reported that the association was in the wrong direction (Tarter, Hegedus, Alterman, & Katz-Garris, 1983).

On the basis of the studies reported here, seeing that violent offenders commonly have lower academic achievement than nonviolent offenders, we conclude that the evidence supports the differential etiology of violence hypothesis (acknowledging that the difference between groups is not always statistically significant). We believe the findings are weak due to small samples in some of these analyses and the fact that most of the studies in this review were not designed to test this specific research question. We have made the case that this might be so in two other papers. In one, we conducted a meta-analysis which showed that there was a significant difference in academic ability between violent and nonviolent offenders across studies (Savage et al., 2016). In that paper we also found that in studies of violence where other forms of offending were controlled, the average effect of academic achievement was still statistically significant. In another paper, we analyzed Add Health data to test our differential etiology hypothesis. We found that violent offending is more strongly associated with GPA than nonviolent offending is. In that analysis, GPA was also associated with violent offending controlling for chronicity of nonviolent offending (Savage & Ellis, 2014).

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