Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

November 2000


Published in Child Abuse & Neglect 24:11 (2000), pp. 1431-1441. Copyright © 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. Used by permission.


Objectives: It has been proposed that homeless street girls are more likely to be from dysfunctional families and exhibit psychological distress than homeless street boys, reflecting cultural factors that result in differential norms for male and female behavior. The current analysis examined whether male and female street youth in a mid-sized Brazilian city differed in their family circumstances and day-to-day functioning on the street.

Methods: The opportunity sample consisted of 33 male (mean age 14.3, range 10-17 years) and 33 female (mean age 14.6, range 11-18 years) street youth who participated in a sentence completion task and structured interview examining family experiences and ability to meet daily needs on the street.

Results: Consistent with the cultural hypothesis, girls described more negative family backgrounds than boys (e.g., they were more likely to have left home because of conflict or abuse, and reported more negative relationships with their parents). However, girls’ functioning on the street was similar to, and in some cases more positive than, that of boys (e.g., fewer girls reported police violence and begging to earn money).

Conclusions: The few gender differences that emerged in this study offer little support for the cultural hypothesis. The findings make sense if local factors, such as services available for male and female youth and public response to street youth, are considered. It appears that street youth differ in their experiences depending on local circumstances, highlighting the need for caution in generalizing about the situation of street youth in different countries.