Publication Date

Summer 2015

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Jerry Daday (Director), Holli Drummond, and Douglas Smith

Degree Program

Department of Sociology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Teenagers are not yet fully developed, creating their self-identity, full of aspiration, and exploring their world through sometimes harmless acts. While it has long been acknowledged that delinquency can lead to a life of crime, criminologists vary on whether a criminal disposition is caused by internal and/or external forces. Labeling theory suggests it could be the negative labels placed upon youth that could inhibit future aspirations more so than the delinquent acts themselves. Using data from the National Youth Survey, this study examines the influence of negative labeling by significant others on educational aspirations among youth with varying levels of educational achievement. These analyses use the third wave of the National Youth Survey dataset when the respondents were teenagers, aged 13-19, as well as the fifth wave, two years later, to examine the internalization of negative labels and the transformative effects on self-identity and educational aspirations. Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression models show statistically significant relationships between negative labeling by significant others (teachers, parents, and friends) and lowered educational aspirations net of delinquency. Specifically, negative labeling by teachers has the most profound effect upon low achievers, while negative labeling by parents and friends has the greatest impact on middle achievers. Implications are discussed.


Criminology | Family, Life Course, and Society | Sociology