Validating Self-Nomination in Gang Research: Assessing Differences in Gang Embeddedness Across Non-, Current, and Former Gang Members

Scott H. Decker, David C. Pyrooz, Gary Sweeten, Richard K. Moule

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    91 Scopus citations


    Objective: The study of gang members is closely linked to the self-nomination method. It is timely to revisit the criterion validity of self-nomination, as recent theoretical and empirical advancements in gang disengagement necessitate further differentiating current from former gang members. This study assessed differences in gang embeddedness—a construct that taps individual immersion within deviant social networks—across three groups: current gang members, former gang members, and those individuals who have never joined a gang.

    Methods: Data gathered in 2011 from a high-risk sample of 621 individuals in five cities were used to assess the validity of the self-nomination method. Standardized differences in a mixed graded response model of gang embeddedness were evaluated across the three statuses of gang membership.

    Results: Self-nomination was strongly related to embeddedness in gangs, even after controlling for demographic, theoretical, and gang-related factors. The strongest predictor of gang embeddedness was self-nomination as a current or a former gang member, although current gang members maintained levels of gang embeddedness about one standard deviation greater than former gang members. Self-nomination was also the primary determinant of gang embeddedness for males, females, whites, blacks, and Hispanics.

    Conclusion: The results of this study provide strong evidence in support of the use of self-nomination to differentiate between non-gang and gang members as well as current and former gang members, adding to a body of research demonstrating that self-nomination is a valid measure of gang membership.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)577-598
    Number of pages22
    JournalJournal of Quantitative Criminology
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Nov 16 2014


    • Embeddedness
    • Gang membership
    • Item response theory
    • Self-report

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
    • Law


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