The mechanisms underlying selection into street gangs remain elusive in the current inventory of theory and research on gangs, raising continued questions about not who or why, but how youth enter gangs and the attendant criminological implications. This study provides a suggestive analysis of an alternative framing of the selection process, one that is rooted in signaling theory.
Methods: A signaling scale was constructed using a mixed graded response model and national longitudinal data to explore the thesis that (1) gang prospects select into gangs using hard-to-fake signals of quality and gangs, in turn, receive and interpret these signals to select high-quality over low-quality prospects and (2) the selection process in signaling framework conditions the well-established relationship between gang membership and criminal offending.
Results: Respondents scoring higher on a signaling scale were more likely to select gangs prospectively and see greater, although nonlinear, increases in criminal offending upon entering gangs, net of adjusting for alternative explanations for these relationships. Conclusions: By further extending and analyzing signaling theory within the study of gang selection and criminal offending, the results of this study reveal that signaling theory has much to offer the study of gangs particularly and criminology generally.