Gluecks' Study of 500 Juvenile Delinquents Determines Root Causes of Criminal Behavior

Most professors engaged in research projects are doomed to see them gather dust for years on library shelves. At best they may receive the plaudits of their fellow specialists, but seldom if ever do they live to see their work applied to the progress of society.

It is more than rare that the value of a piece of research is immediately appreciated and applied to practical affairs-the work of Sheldon Glueck, Roscoe Pound Professor of Law, and his wife Eleanor Glueck, a research criminologist at the Law School, is one of these few cases.

Generally recognized as tops in their field, the Gluecks have been pioneering in criminology for nearly 25 years under the sponsorship of the Law School. The last ten of these have been devoted to work on one of the most ambitions surveys ever undertaken in this or any other field. The results were published in a 400-page, highly detalled report entitled "Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency," which appeared in 1950, and were simplified and condensed for the layman in their book "Delinquents in the Making," published this year.

This new study is an attempt to penetrate to the real causes of delinquency and crime and to discover some means of preventing not the crime, but the criminal. The Gluecks have repudiated the traditional preventives usually prescribed: the banning of comic books, radio and television shows, which depict criminal episodes: the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages: the establishment of playgrounds, boys clubs, and casteens. Although all these may be incidentally helpful they certainly do not relate to the root causes of crime.

The Gluecks reject the traditional conception of crime as a result of poverty, suggestion, or decline in morality. They seek, in this study, to discover the truly basic complex set of interrelated factors which are at the seat of anti-social behavior.


The results of the project have been halled by lawyers, professors, paychologists, educators and social workers as one of the most significant contributions ever made to the field of criminology.

Practical Application

However, the most significant aspect of the reaction to the Glueck studies is that, with only two years elapsed since the publication of their first report, great interest has been shown among educational authorities throughout the country in the practical application of their theories.

Last fall the Boston School Committee unanimously approved a plan to train teachers to detect juvenile delinquency, or tendencies toward it, in grade school children. The teacher training course which will be given by the Boston Teachers College this fall is based on the method outlined in the Glueck book.

In recent months both the New York City School Board and the New York City Youth Board have indicated interest in experimentally testing some of the methods outlined in "Unravelling Juvenile Delinquency." However, the Gluecks are extremely cautious about applications of their methods and only want to see it applied on an experimental basis.

This study is infinitely more intensive than any they have attempted and possibly than any ever attempted in the field before. It is a study of 500 delinquent boys (seven to eleven years in age) matched, case for case, with 500 non-delinquents living in the Boston area. Each delinquent was matched with a non-delinquent by age, family background, general intelligence, ethnic derivation, and residence in an under-privileged neighborhood. This alone was a long and tedious process.

Then there Gluecks with a staff of anthropologists, psychiatrists, physicians, social workers, statisticians and other experts went to work in an attempt to find out what made half the boys delinquents and the other not.

The study employed specialists in all fields relevant to crime in order not to overlook any promising leads to crime causation. As the Gluecks themselves put it. "Our task is to discover the patterns of factors from all areas of the investigation which in their dynamic interplay and combined weight are causal of persistent delinquency."

The main mistake which the authors strived to avoid in their study was that of a one-sided approach. They were eager to encompass all conceivable approaches to the cause of crime. Judging by the outline of their procedure they succeeded.

The size and scope of the project can be appreciated from the fact that each boy was described in terms of 402 factors. The investigation falls generally into five main groupings: family and personal background, bodily types, health, intelligence, and temperament and character structure.