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© 1996, The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska on behalf of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension. All rights reserved.


This NebGuide discusses the history and present status of gangs in the United States, the implications of their effects upon family life today and offers suggestions for intervention and prevention.

There has been an explosion of awareness and concern about gang membership and gang activity in the United States since 1990. Parents, schools, city and state government and law enforcement officials have attempted to confront this phenomenon, often with limited success. Street gangs have existed in the U.S. since the late nineteenth century, and sociologists have studied them since the 1920s. But the current interest in gangs has been fueled by their rapid growth, by the spread of violence in the schools, child-to-child attacks, drive-by shootings, drug trafficking, and murder. A recent study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that from 1985 to 1991, the annual rates at which young men aged 15- to 19-years-old were killed jumped 154 percent. Virtually the entire increase was attributed to the use of guns, mostly in gang situations.

Historically, gangs have been found in inner-city areas that are economically depressed and lack resources. Gang activity sometimes is passed down through family generations, and experts believe it arises for many reasons, including several social, psychological and family factors. Some of the social factors that have facilitated gang development include: poverty, divorce, abuse of alcohol and other drugs, unemployment and antisocial behaviors (Lawson and Lawson, 1994). The following data suggest the possible relationship between these factors and the participation in gangs.