Gang Organization and Gang Identity: An Investigation of Enduring Gang Membership

  • John LeversoEmail author
  • Ross L. Matsueda



Motivated by recent advances in the study of disengagement from street gangs, this research develops a theoretical framework of enduring gang membership based on gang organization and gang identity. Using multivariate data, this research tests the theoretical framework against a competing theory derived from the general theory of crime where gang organization and gang identity are non-existent or unimportant in producing enduring gang membership.


Eight waves of panel data on high-risk youth from the Denver Youth Survey and discrete-time event-history models are used to investigate enduring gang membership.


The length of time an individual spends in a gang is associated with the perceived organization of the gang and an individual’s gang identity. In a hazard model, accounting for right censoring, low self-control, and contextual time-varying gang related variables, increases in gang identity were associated with (on average) a 26% lower rate of reporting no longer being a gang member. Increases in perceived gang organization were associated with (on average) a 12% lower rate of reporting no longer being a gang member. Surprisingly however, no association was found between gang organization and gang identity.


This research finds support for using a theoretical framework based on gang organization and gang identity to understand enduring gang membership. Both gang identity and gang organization exert independent effects on the length of time an individual spends in a gang.


Gangs Disengagement from gangs Enduring gang membership Gang organization Gang identity 



We thank Callie Burt, Jerry Herting, Katherine O’Neill, and Lynette Hoelter for helpful comments on an earlier draft, Aimée Dechter for helpful advice, and the Center for Social Science Computation and Research at the University of Washington and Charles Lanfear for computing assistance.


This research was supported by grants from the Blumstein-Jordan Endowed Professorship in Sociology, University of Washington, the National Institute of Justice (2014-R2-CX-0018), and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (1256082). Partial support for this research came from a Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development research infrastructure grant to the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology at the University of Washington (R24 HD042828).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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