Derek A. Kreager 

    Associate Professor, Penn State University

   Dept. of Crime, Law, and Justice   




PSU Sociology 

Pennsylvania State University

Curriculum Vitae

Testing Theory Grad Course

Intro to Criminology Course

Drugs and Society Course




       Description: kreager picture.jpg


Department of Crime, Law and Justice              
Pennsylvania State University
State College, PA 16802-6207

tel: 814- 867-0217  
Office: Oswald 905



Last Updated: 1/5/2012





Criminology, Quantitative Methods, Adolescent Sexuality, Networks, Life Course

    My research centers on testing theoretical hypotheses as they apply to juvenile delinquency and adolescent development. I am interested in examining how adolescent social networks either inhibit or contribute to individual criminal behaviors. To this end, I am working with the sociometric data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and PROSPER Peers Project to locate teenagers within their peer friendship networks and test how these positions relate to subsequent behavior.

    In addition to my research of adolescent social networks, I am also working with Prof. Ross Matsueda to analyze data from the Denver Youth Study. This dataset is a rich source of measures applicable to theories of rational choice and trajectories of crime. We are currently preparing several papers testing the underlying assumptions of rational choice theory. In addition, we are looking at trajectories of adolescent behavior to examine if chronic offenders exist as a distinct criminal type and identify any possible mechanisms for such a typology.




    Published Papers

Derek A. Kreager. 2004. "Strangers in the Halls: Isolation and Delinquency in School Networks." Social Forces 82(5).
     Abstract - Although criminologists have long recognized the strong correlation between a person’s delinquency and the delinquency of his or her friends, the mechanisms underlying this relationship remain elusive. The current study adds to research on peers and delinquency by exploring the behaviors of adolescents isolated from school friendship networks. Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) allow me to identify an isolated population and test theoretically derived hypotheses. Results suggest that low peer attachment in and of itself fails to increase future delinquency. However, isolation in conjunction with problematic peer encounters at school was found to significantly increase delinquency and delinquent peer associations. The theoretical implications of this interaction are discussed.

Ross L. Matsueda, Derek A. Kreager, and David Huizinga. 2006. “Deterring Delinquents: A Rational Choice Model of Theft and Violence.” American Sociological Review 71(1).
     Abstract - This paper examines criminal behavior from a rational choice perspective, the set of behavioral principles underlying our legal institution.  Using a subjective utility approach, we specify experiential learning models of the formation of risk perceptions and rational choice models of theft and violence.  We estimate our models using panel data on high risk youth from the Denver Youth Survey.  Using random effects tobit models of perceived risk and negative binomial models of counts of criminal acts, we find support for a rational choice model.  Perceived risk follows a Bayesian updating model in which current risk perceptions are a function of prior risk perceptions plus new information based on experience with crime and arrest and observations of peers.  Theft and violence are a function of the perceived risk of arrest, subjective psychic rewards (including excitement and social status), and perceived opportunities.


Derek A. Kreager. 2007. “Unnecessary Roughness? School Sports, Peer Networks, and Male Adolescent Violence.” American Sociological Review 72(5).
    This study examines the extent to which participation in high school interscholastic sports contributes to male adolescent violence. Deriving competing hypotheses from social control, social learning, and masculinity theories, it uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to test if (1) type of sport, and (2) peer athletic participation, contribute to the risks of male serious fighting. Contrary to social control expectations, findings suggest that athletic involvement fails to inhibit male violence.  Moreover, there is a strong relationship between contact sports and violence. Football players and wrestlers, as opposed to baseball, basketball, tennis, and other athletes, are significantly more likely than non-athletic males to be involved in a serious fight. Additionally, the direct effect of football is explained by the football participation of individuals’ peers. Males whose friends play football are more likely to fight than other males, supporting perspectives that emphasize peer contexts as important mediators for male violence. Overall, findings are consistent with the expectations of social learning and masculinity arguments. The theoretical and policy implications of these results are discussed.    


Derek A. Kreager. 2007. “When it’s Good to be ‘Bad’: Violence and Adolescent Peer Acceptance.” Criminology 45(4).

   This article examines the relationship between adolescent violence and peer acceptance in school. Deriving hypotheses from subcultural theories of crime and violence, it tests whether the violence-status relationship varies across students’ socio-demographic characteristics and educational contexts. Analyses of school network data collected from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health suggest that violence generally holds a negative relationship to peer friendship nominations for both males and females. However, for males, this effect varies by students’ educational standing. Violence shows a modest positive association to peer acceptance for males who perform poorly in school. There is no evidence that race moderates the violence-status relationship. These findings are replicated in longitudinal analyses of a large metropolitan high school. For females, violence has a significant negative relationship to peer status that does not vary by individual characteristics. However, school levels of violence moderate the relationship between social status and female violence, such that violent females have greater numbers of friendships in highly violent schools. The implications of these findings for peer research and delinquency theory are discussed.


Jeremy Staff and Derek A. Kreager. 2008. “Too Cool for School? Violence, Peer Status, and High School Dropout.” Social Forces 87(1).

   Research shows that peer status in adolescence is positively associated with school achievement and adjustment.  However, subculture theories of juvenile delinquency and school-based ethnographies suggest that (1) disadvantaged boys are often able to gain peer status through violence and (2) membership in violent groups undermines educational attainment.  Building on these ideas, we use peer network data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) to examine whether peer status within highly violent groups increases male risks of high school dropout.  Consistent with the subcultural argument, we find that disadvantaged boys with high status in violent groups are at much greater risks of high school dropout than other students.


Derek A. Kreager. 2008. “Guarded Borders: Interracial Teen Dating and Problems with Peers and Parents.” Social Forces 87(2).

   Race scholars have long viewed inter-group romantic relationships as barometers for racial equality, and although formal barriers to these relationships have eroded over time, interracial unions remain infrequent. Low intermarriage rates may be partially explained by the informal social sanctions leveled at young interracial romances. This study tests whether adolescents who interracially date are at greater risks of violent victimization and peer and parent difficulties than intra-racial and non-dating peers. Results demonstrate that strong relationships exist between adolescent interracial dating and negative social encounters. These relationships persist after controlling for a host of covariates and self-selection variables.  Implications of the results for future intermarriage rates and public policy are discussed.       


Kreager, Derek A. and Jeremy Staff. 2009. “The Sexual Double Standard and Adolescent Peer Acceptance.” Social Psychology Quarterly.

  The belief that women and men are held to different standards of sexual conduct is pervasive in contemporary American society. According to the sexual double standard, boys and men are rewarded and praised for heterosexual sexual contacts, whereas girls and women are derogated and stigmatized for similar behaviors. Although widely held by the general public, research findings on the sexual double standard remain equivocal, with qualitative studies and early attitudinal surveys generally finding evidence of the double standard and more recent experimental vignette designs often failing to find similar results. In this study, we extend prior research by directly measuring the social status of sexually permissive youth. We use data collected from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to relate adolescents’ self-reported numbers of sexual partners to a network measure of peer acceptance. Results suggest that the association between lifetime sexual partnerships and peer status varies significantly by gender, such that greater numbers of sexual partners are positively correlated with boys’ peer acceptance, but negatively correlated with girls’ peer acceptance. Moreover, the relationship between boys’ sexual behaviors and peer acceptance is moderated by socioeconomic origins; sexually permissive boys from disadvantaged backgrounds are predicted to have more friendships than permissive boys from more advantaged backgrounds. Our results thus support the existence of an adolescent sexual double standard and suggest that sexual norms vary by both gender and socioeconomic origins.

Kreager, Derek A., Ross L. Matsueda, and Elena Erosheva. 2010. “Motherhood and Criminal Desistance in Disadvantaged Neighborhoods.” Criminology.

  Evidence from several qualitative studies suggests that the transition to motherhood has strong inhibitory effects on poor women’s delinquency and drug use trajectories. Quantitative studies, however, typically fail to find significant parenthood or motherhood effects. We argue that the latter research has typically not examined motherhood in disadvantaged settings or applied the appropriate statistical method. Focusing on within-individual change, we test the motherhood hypothesis using a sample of over five-hundred women living in disadvantaged Denver communities. We find that the transition to motherhood is significantly associated with reductions in delinquency, marijuana, and alcohol behaviors. Moreover, we find that the effect of motherhood is larger than that of marriage for all outcomes. These results support the qualitative findings and suggest that the transition to motherhood—and not marriage—is the primary turning point for disadvantaged women to exit delinquent and drug using trajectories.


Koon-Magnin, Sarah, Derek A. Kreager and Barry Ruback. 2010. “Are High School Seniors Who Date Freshmen Sexual Predators? Re-Assesing the Link between Partner Age-Span and Girls’ Reproductive Health.” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

  An extensive literature suggests that teenage girls who date substantially older male partners are at increased risks of negative health outcomes, including unprotected sex and teenage pregnancy. These findings are consistent with statutory rape laws, which prohibit sexual involvement with adolescents below the age of consent. However, prior research has generally ignored the social contexts of adolescent romance and potential threshold effects in the relationship between age and sexual risk. Analyses of a national sample of early adolescent female romantic relationships reveal that, consistent with prior research, girls with substantially older male partners are at greater risks of sexual intercourse than are girls with similarly-aged boyfriends. However, this effect holds only for girls aged sixteen and under and is fully attenuated when the partner’s educational status is controlled. Thus, the sexual risks associated with dating an older partner primarily apply to younger girls with partners who have exited secondary education. These findings are consistent with the normative contexts of adolescence and have implications for statutory rape legislation.


Derek A. Kreager, Christopher Lyons, and Zachary Hays. 2011. “Urban Revitalization and Seattle Crime, 1982-2000.” Social Problems.

   This study examines the relationship between inner-city crime and urban revitalization or “gentrification.” Drawing on recent urban research, we hypothesize that gentrification progressed rapidly in many American cities over the last decade, and that these changes had implications for area crime rates. Criminological theories hold competing hypotheses for the connections between gentrification and crime, and not since the late 1980’s have criminologists quantitatively examined these links. Using thirty years of Seattle tract-level demographic and crime data, we find that many of the city’s downtown tracts underwent rapid gentrification during the 1990’s, and that these areas also saw large reductions in crime. This relationship holds after controlling for a host of other demographic changes and patterns of spatial autocorrelation, suggesting that processes of urban revitalization helped curb area crime rates and perhaps reversed trends resulting from earlier deindustrialization. The implications of these results for criminological theory and broader crime patterns are discussed.


Kreager, Derek A. and Dana L. Haynie. 2011. “Dangerous Liaisons? Dating and Drinking Diffusion in Adolescent Peer Networks.” American Sociological Review 76(5):737-763.

The onset and escalation of alcohol consumption and romantic relationships are hallmarks of adolescence, yet only recently have these domains jointly been the focus of sociological inquiry. We extend this literature by connecting alcohol use, dating, and peers to understand the diffusion of drinking behavior in school-based friendship networks.  Drawing on Granovetter’s classic concept of weak ties, we argue that adolescent romantic partners are likely to be network bridges, or liaisons, connecting daters to new peer contexts which, in turn, promote changes in individual drinking behaviors and allow these behaviors to spread across peer networks. Using longitudinal data of 459 couples from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we estimate Actor-Partner Interdependence Models and identify the unique contributions of partners’ drinking, friends’ drinking, and friends-of-partners’ drinking to daters’ own future binge drinking and drinking frequency. Findings support the liaison hypothesis and suggest that friends-of-partners’ drinking have net associations with adolescent drinking patterns. Moreover, the coefficient for friends-of-partners’ drinking is larger than the coefficient for one’s own peers and generally immune to prior selection. Our findings suggest that romantic relationships are important mechanisms for understanding the diffusion of emergent problem behaviors in adolescent peer networks.


Kreager, Derek A., Kelly Rulison, and James Moody. 2011. “Delinquency and the Structure of Adolescent Peer Groups.” Criminology 49(1):95-127.

Gangs and group-level processes were once central phenomena for criminological theory and research. By the mid-1970’s, however, gang research was primarily displaced by studies of individual behavior using randomized self-report surveys, a shift that also removed groups from the theoretical foreground. In this project, we return to the group level to test competing theoretical claims about delinquent group structure. We use network-based clustering methods to identify 897 friendship groups in two ninth grade cohorts of 27 Pennsylvania and Iowa schools. We then relate group-level measures of delinquency and drinking to network measures of group size, friendship reciprocity, transitivity, structural cohesion, stability, average popularity, and network centrality. We find significant negative correlations between group delinquency and all of our network measures, suggesting that delinquent groups are less solidary and less central to school networks than non-delinquent groups. Further analyses, however, reveal that these correlations are primarily explained by other group characteristics, such as gender composition and socioeconomic status. Drinking behaviors, on the other hand, show net positive associations with most of the network measures, suggesting that drinking groups have higher status and are more internally cohesive than non-drinking groups. Our findings shed light on a longstanding criminological debate by suggesting that any structural differences between delinquent and non-delinquent groups may be attributable to other attributes coincidental with delinquency.  In contrast, drinking groups appear to provide peer contexts that increase social capital.


     Working Papers

Matsueda, Ross L. and Derek A. Kreager. “An Acquired Taste: Rational Decision-Making and becoming a Marijuana User.”


Felson, Richard and Derek A. Kreager. “Can Criminological Theories Explain Race and Ethnic Differences in Delinquency?”


Lori Burrington, Derek A. Kreager, and Dana L. Haynie. “Negotiating Desire: Gender, Sex, and Depression in Adolescent Romantic Couples.”


Telesca, Donatello, Elena Erosheva, Derek A. Kreager, and Ross L. Matsueda. “Hierarchical Registration of Longitudinal Count Data with Unimodality Constraints.”


Rulison, Kelly, D. Wayne Osgood, and Derek A. Kreager. “Popularity of Persistently Delinquent Youth.”


Koon-Magnin, Sarah and Derek A. Kreager. “Older Romantic Partners and Female Adolescent Risk Behavior: A Counterfactual Approach.”


Kreager, Derek A., Richard Felson, Cody Warner, and Marin Wenger. “Knowing when to Fold ‘Em: Education, Marital Violence, and Divorce.”










The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports – Find official crime statistics reported by the nation’s police departments.


The Bureau of Justice Statistics Page – Has a description and data from the National Crime Victimization Survey.


The 2000 Census Factfinder – Use the Search commands to find demographic and social characteristics at the national, state, city, tract or blockgroup level.