Gang member demographics
Respondents were asked about the demographic characteristics (age, gender, and race/ethnicity) of gang members in the 1996 and 1998 National Youth Gang Surveys. Thus, the 1998 survey results can be compared with the 1996 results.
As noted earlier, youth gang member age categories were defined as younger than 15, 1517, 1824, and older than 24. Tables 12 and 13 and figures 4 and 5 show data for these four categories. For purposes of analysis, the categories are sometimes combined to compare juvenile members (age 17 or younger) and adult members (age 18 or older).
In 1996, youth gang members were evenly split between juveniles and adults (see figure 4). In 1998, survey respondents reported that about 60 percent of gang members were adults and 40 percent were juveniles. This represents a significant shift in the age of gang members. During the 2-year period, the percentage of adult gang members increased from 50 to 60 percent. Almost all of this increase was accounted for by growth in the 1824 age group, which increased by 9 percent. The age group older than 24 grew only 1 percent, and the age groups 1517 and younger than 15 each decreased 5 percent. Thus, aging of youth gangs between 1996 and 1998 can be attributed mainly to fewer youth 17 and younger joining gangs, some older adolescents staying in gangs longer (thus moving into the 18 or older categories), and some youth age 18 or older staying in gangs longer.4 This aging of youth gang members is a development that bears watching closely in future National Youth Gang Surveys.
Figure 5 illustrates the age ranges of youth gang members, by area type, in 1998. The figure clearly shows that adult gang members were far more prevalent in large cities and suburban counties than in small cities and rural counties. Large city and suburban county respondents reported higher proportions of adult gang members and lower proportions of juveniles, whereas small cities and rural counties reported the opposite pattern. In large cities, 61 percent of all gang members were age 18 or older. In contrast, gang members age 17 or younger were more prevalent in small cities (67 percent) and rural counties (66 percent).
Table 12 compares the age ranges of youth gang members, by area type, in 1996 and 1998 and shows the percent change over the 2-year period. This change was most pronounced in large cities, where the proportion of adult gang members increased from 51 percent in 1996 to 61 percent in 1998. All of that increase was for the 1824 age group; the older-than-24 age group had no change. During the same period, the proportion of juveniles decreased in all area types except suburban counties; the largest decrease was in large cities (5 percent for the younger-than-15 age group and 6 percent for the 1517 age group). The younger-than-15 age group also decreased 6 percent in rural counties. In small cities, the 1517 age group decreased, while the younger-than-15 age group had no change. All decreases for suburban and rural areas were for the younger-than-15 age group; the 1517 age group actually increased.
Table 13 shows the age ranges of youth gang members, by region within each area type, in 1998. The South stands out as the region in which juvenile gang members were most prevalent. In the South, juveniles were reported to be a majority or near majority of gang members in small cities (76 percent), rural counties (66 percent), and suburban counties (50 percent); large cities, where juveniles represented 48 percent of all gang members, were the only exception to this pattern. Adults represented a majority of all gang members in the large cities of all regions and in suburban counties in the Midwest (61 percent) and West (61 percent). Adults were predominant in large cities in the West (67 percent).