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No doubt, being in a gang is a dangerous occupation. Gang members are constantly under threat, whether that’s getting arrested for illegal activity or getting killed by rival gang members. According to a recent study, when somebody was in a gang as a teenager, it can have dramatic effects on their adult life. Adults who were previously in a gang have a higher risk of crime conviction and receiving illegal income, are less likely to have completed high school and are more likely to be in poor health, receive welfare and struggle with drug abuse.
Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle talk about how they used 23 risk factors to find children likely to join street gangs, compared some who did and some who didn’t and then linked this research to outcomes in adult years. The study looked at results from the Seattle Social Development Project, which followed 888 fifth-grade students, half of whom were from low-income families. The children attended 18 different elementary schools in neighborhoods with high levels of crime. They were then interviewed every year until they reached 18 years of age, then once every three years after that, until they were 33 years old. When participants reached the age of 33, the researchers assessed three factors in adulthood: education and occupational achievement, illegal behavior and mental and physical health.
Through these interviews, and using a cluster of 23 various “risk factors”, researchers could identify children who were more likely to join a gang. They then compared 173 different teenagers joined a gang with an equal number who did not, but who also matched the same risk factors. They found that adult participants between the ages of 27 and 33 who were former teen gang members were nearly three times more likely to report taking part in criminal activity, more than three times more likely to receive some sort of illegal income and more than twice as likely to have been in jail in the past year. They were also nearly three times more likely to struggle with drug abuse and twice as likely to have poor health and be in receipt of welfare. They were also half as likely to have completed their high school education.
Most children joined a gang when they were just under 15 years old. None of the participants reported joining a gang after 19, and 60% reported being in a gang for at most three years. According to Amanda Gilman, a doctoral candidate in UW’s School of Social Work, joining a gang was a turning point in peoples’ lives. Very few of the people in the study reported still being in a gang by the time they were 27. While many of them had left the gang a while ago, they were still feeling its impact on their lives.