The Relationship Between Academic Performance & Delinquency

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  • 0:04 Contributing Factors
  • 1:48 Explanations
  • 3:35 Student Delinquency Increases
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Eric Keith

Dr. Keith holds a PhD in Criminology and has instructed adult and collegiate learners in theory, research, and application of the social sciences.

Academic performance and juvenile delinquency have a long-standing, empirically supported correlation. Overall, poor academic performance is related to juvenile delinquency based on a number of individual, social, and institutional factors.

Contributing Factors

Have you ever considered the implications of poor academic performance on juvenile delinquency? There are few established links with more empirical confirmation than the correlation between juvenile delinquency and educational performance and achievement. The real question, however, centers around what is the causal link between delinquency and academics.

Of the many academically confirmed factors correlated with juvenile delinquency, academic performance is among the strongest. The issue is whether academic performance causes juvenile delinquency or whether juvenile delinquency causes poor academic performance. Evidence-based research has not completely established these direct causal and directional links. However, there are steadfast factors that contribute to this correlation.

While it is not a definitive conclusion that poor school performance spurs delinquency, or just that there is some other factor about juvenile delinquents that leads them to underperform in school, there are key features that define this relationship link. Juvenile delinquency is seen to increase on average with poor school performance. Past research has attributed this link to major factors, including poor grades, failing grade levels, poor school environment, poor student-teacher relationships, truancy, negative peer relationships, and early drop-out from school. Other strongly associated factors include poor social bonds with family and school influencers, poor community and school resources, learning and attention deficiencies, low self-esteem, low self-control, and higher than normal aggressive actions and tendencies.


In considering the key factors that link and relate poor academic performance and delinquency, there have been several theories applied to aid in understanding how this relationship may exist.

Strain theory posits that juveniles turn to crime for tangible and esteem laden rewards that fall short from school-related performance. Thus, when students do not receive the gratification and rewards they expect from good school performance, they turn to crime to achieve happiness, money, material goods, and attention.

Control theory presents information that normal controlling influences of family members and school officials such as teachers have weak bonds with poor performing students. These students in turn do not feel the controlling fear of disappointing or disobeying these individuals, which lowers the inhibition for engaging in delinquency.

The general theory of crime suggests that students cannot adequately manage their behavior in order to get good grades, or to consider the costs associated with engaging in delinquency.

Other social theories related to delinquency include social disorganization theory, which relates the lack of community organized resources or cohesion to causing delinquency. Likewise, social learning theory suggests delinquent behaviors are learned from major influencers in a child's environment (i.e., family and friends) within a series of rewards and punishments that guide the child towards delinquent behaviors.

Developmental theories, such as life-course theory and three-pathway theory, hold that many different combined impacts of relationships and attachments to personal and institutional groups, such as family, school, work, friends, and community groups, influence the engagement or rejection of delinquency.

Student Delinquency Increases

Once again, how much does academic performance relate to crime? It appears that there is a great deal to be considered in how and why a student's academic performance relates to delinquency. To help answer this question, let's examine which other related factors may increase delinquency.

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