Problem Behavioral Intention and Delinquent Behavior in Hong Kong Adolescents: The Role of Religion

Problem Behavioral Intention and Delinquent Behavior in Hong Kong Adolescents: The Role of Religion


Does spirituality or religious behavior affect delinquency? Much criminological, economic, and sociological research aims at answering this very crucial question. This paper examines the relationship between delinquency of adolescents in the form of illegal drug use and crime and spirituality and religiosity. This study uses information from different studies. Through the probit analyses, the findings demonstrate that attending religious services has adverse effects on arrest, use of marijuana, and the heavy and light criminal acts. Importance of religion, the influence of spirituality, and religious affiliation have negative impacts on delinquency.

Keywords: Spirituality, religion, delinquency, adolescents


Adolescence is considered as a life stage which is full of stress and storm. While many of the adolescents successful adapt to the challenges in this stage, some young individuals experience maladaptive problems. The adolescent problem behaviors do not only prevent the current healthy functioning of the adolescents but also seriously affects their wellbeing in the long-term. For example, adolescents having higher risks of taking part in petty theft and fighting are highly likely to make reports of substance abuse problems, dropping out of school in early adulthood, and depression. The reviews from research carried out in 25 years demonstrated that adolescents who used tobacco, alcohol, and related drugs frequently registered worse performances compared to their peers who do not have substance abuse problems. With the adolescent problem behaviors having a high family, social, and personal costs, there is an urgent need towards preventing the adolescent problem behaviors. Some scholars lay claim that some private assets are protective factors for the reduction of the recurrence of adolescent problem behaviors. This current study emphasizes on one asset of development in the form of spirituality and how it predicts the delinquent behaviors for Hong Kong adolescents. Nations are presently spending over 50 billion yearly on corrections, and this estimate is anticipated to increase twofold in the coming years. Juveniles have played growing roles in the increase in costs. Therefore, it is crucial to address this pressing issue since delinquent youths have higher chances of having criminal records in adulthood.  One of the ways through which religion can improve the wellbeing of society is through the reduction of the rates of crime. These kinds of appropriations are reasonable when the policymakers can demonstrate the existence of a significant connection between crime and religion.


Although there is no agreed definition on the concept of spirituality, some critical aspects are generally highlighted, including the meaning and purpose of life, compassion, hope, connectedness, beliefs, and relationship in the higher individual. Adolescence is a period where there is heightened ideological hunger, where people strive for purpose and meaning, and desire for connectedness and relationships. This idea is backed up by research studies and human history. For instance, Austin et al. (2005) contended that 80% of U.S. first-year students consider themselves spiritual beings that have interests in spirituality and buy into the sanctity of life. Many theorists believe that spirituality is crucial for resilience, which is an asset in maneuvering with adverse life experiences and can assist adolescents in handling life problems and difficulties in adaptive means. This argument supports the theory of Frankl (1967) where he contended that adjustment and psychological problems fill the existential vacuum caused through the loss of meaning in life. These higher spirituality levels are closely connected to higher life satisfaction, fewer symptoms of depression, better images of the self and fewer problem behaviors for the adolescents. Regardless of the general proposals that spirituality is negatively connected to behavioral problems for adolescents, there are different gaps in the literature. Many of the studies which were carried out in Western nations used the concept of religiosity without the differentiation of the religiosity and spirituality concepts.

Religion is a crucial social control tool which can prevent crime and deviance — religion assists in guiding and shaping our opinions of the world, offering values which direct our behavior. Additionally, having religious beliefs is an integral part of our identities. Previous studies have ascertained that youths having higher spiritual involvement levels are less likely to take part in substance abuse and drug use, and they have lower offending rates. Regardless, scholars such as Arnett (1998) claimed that the emerging adult (adolescents) in college is less likely to tend to religious services frequently. Nonetheless, even though they have lower religions participations, they still claim spiritual is an essential factor for most of them. The roles of religion in the lives of adolescents are a critical relationship for the examination of whether there is a growing literature which examines the connections in the variance in risks and antisocial behaviors and religious expression. Many studies have examined the relationships between antisocial behaviors’ and religion, such as the use of drugs and crime, and have focused on the belief of religion being a homogenous factor. Research has focused on the protective elements of religiosity, such as attending religious services, participating in religious activities or groups, or creating scaled measures of items related to religiosity.

Previous research has suggested that experimental drug use is high in the adolescent stage and then has the tendency of decreasing at age 25 when people assume adult social roles. At age 25, they begin creating attachments and bonds which act to prevent deviance and crime. There is a different theoretical argument on why religion needs to have beneficial impacts on offense, both in economic and sociological literature. In 1969, Travis Hirsch introduced the social contract theory where he linked religious institutions in his work. According to the Social Contract Theory, delinquent acts are due to an individual having broken or weak bonds to the community. Commitment, attachment, belief, and involvement are the four main conventional bond elements to the city. Attachment is when an individual is connected to other people. One is less likely to commit deviant acts when his peers look at him disapprovingly. Commitment refers to the energy and time one dedicates in a specific task. Whenever an individual contemplates taking part in deviant behavior, he or she has to evaluate the risks he has over losing his investments in the standard practice. Involvement is a representation of the way one’s schedule is. An involved person has different appointments in many routine tasks, and this limits the opportunity for committing deviant acts. The final aspect of the theory of Social Contract is belief. When one has strong feelings in the norms of society, he or she will not violate them. The religious institutions are assumed to foster normative beliefs and individual commitment, involvement, and attachment to the broader community. The social contract theory holds that through strengthening a person’s connection to society, these religious institutions prevent criminal acts.

Other theories explaining delinquency include social learning, arousal, and social selection theories. The social selection theory contends that religion influences the selections of adolescents to the extent that religious peers choose peers who have the same, conventional beliefs. This kind of positive reinforcement means that an individual is prevented from criminal acts. The social learning theory states that people are less likely to take part in delinquent acts when they are exposed to pro-social models and whenever they are reinforced for pro-social, positive behaviors. The arousal theory connects criminal acts to the demand for neural stimulation by an individual. Delinquents are majorly bored people, and this means they look towards risky behavior for the satisfaction of their biological requirements for the stimuli of their neural.

Nonetheless, religion meets these needs for most people. On the same note, economic literature on religion and crime pay much attention to the costs and benefits to an individual over the committing of criminal activity. Every dominant religion in the U.S. has rules and punishment for taking part in an illegal act. The church members who go against these rules are subject to ostracism and stigmatization from the members of their religious community. Furthermore, religion prevents the criminal behavior of a person through supernatural sanctions threats. Religion also promotes the normative behaviors by issuing promises of spiritual rewards. In essence, the economic reasoning provides for a rational individual, who is religious, to less likely take part in delinquent acts. This is because of the associated costs of performing the negligent acts which are greater compared to that of a non-religious individual.


Although many theories have predicted lower rates of crime in the presence of religion, studies have offered mixed outcomes. Stark and Hirschi in 1969 introduced and empirically tested the hypothesis (hellfire hypothesis) where they argued that extremely religious individuals are less likely to take part in criminal acts and deviance compared to non-religious individuals. After the examination of a large, random sample of students in high school, they did not find any relations in the religious commitment levels among the youth and delinquency. Some studies have also provided the same results. An example is a study which found that when a mother and child have different religious affiliations, the child has tendencies of arguing with the mother, and this increases delinquency risks. Another study also demonstrated that religious dominance in a society increases the dangers of violence. The Conservative Protestant Thesis states that individuals attending church frequently and holding the hierarchical image of God are more accommodative of violence compared to others. In agreement with this thesis, Lee’s findings pointed towards communities having high numbers of Protestants as more accepting of violence and having more crime and violence rates. Regardless of these findings, many studies have shown beneficial connections between crime and religion.

There is more proof of the involvement of religion lowering the risks for delinquent and minor behavior. Current meta-analysis of 60 different research demonstrated that religious practices and beliefs exerted moderate deterrent effects on the criminal behavior of an individual. Ongoing studies have also found that the involvement of religion in the life of an adolescent significantly lowered the risks of criminality in the adulthood stage. Moreover, there is increasingly growing proof that doctrine can be utilized as a tool to assist with the prevention of high-risk urban youths from delinquent behaviors and giving them a greater sense of empathy towards other people. Many other studies have stated that the numbers of churches in any given area or the religiosity amounts in society are an essential factor in reducing the rates of crime for people in all age groups.

Moreover, religion could serve as a way of assisting delinquent youth from their present deviant behaviors and a possible career in crime. Regardless of the uncertainty in the relationship between crime and religion, there is a strong connection between substance abuse and religion. Johnson et al. (2001) contend that hundreds of alcohol and drug research have examined the relationship between drug or alcohol abuse and religiosity. 99% of these studies have concluded that taking part in religious acts is connected with a reduced tendency of using or abusing alcohol and drugs. The analysis of Baier and Wright (2001) also arrived at the same findings. Some other studies have indicated that individuals frequently part of religious activities and who have high value for their religions are at minimized risks for depression. They can cope with life stresses which can prevent the use of alcohol and drugs. Individuals who are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs are also less likely to commit criminal acts, and this offers another explanation of the relationship between crime and religion.



It is quite apparent that religion plays crucial roles in the recent delinquent rates among adolescents, not only in Hong Kong but in nations the world over. At the same time, the increased delinquency rates mean that opposers and supports express their viewpoints on this very topic, and this has resulted in the issue becoming a topic of contention. Therefore, this topic is interesting to investigate towards efforts of understanding how religion affects delinquent behaviors. The goal of the present study is identifying how faith plays out in the overall delinquency rates among adolescents in Hong Kong.

More specifically, this research will try to understand:

  1. The connection between religion and drug abuse
  2. The relationship between religion and crime
  3. The styles and methods used by scholars in opposing or supporting these relationships


  1. How does spirituality or religious behavior deter delinquency?
  2. Does spirituality or religious behavior have a more significant impact on delinquency?


To test the hypothesis of this research as related to spirituality, juvenile delinquency, and religion, this study used data from the website “Transition to Adulthood Supplement to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.”  The sample of the study included 745 adolescents, and the interview was carried through the telephone. After the proper cleaning of data, the sample was made up of 685 respondents, all adolescents aged from 18-22. Table 1 shown in the appendix page has the description of every variable which is used in this research. The appendix section also has the questions used in the survey in deriving the dependent and independent variables. There was an examination of five dichotomous dependent variables in an analytical framework. Firstly, arrests were determined by whether the person had ever been a subject of an arrest. Secondly, through the use of information from the survey on the first and last criminal acts, there was the formation of two more dependent variables. These dependent variables were “heavy” and “light” crimes to account the crime’s severity. As a means of categorizing the seriousness of every offense into heavy and light, there was the use of expert opinions which were combined.

Additionally, any offense which led to a jail sentence was regarded as “heavy.” There was also the formulation of two more dependent variables in the form of cocaine and marijuana in the capturing of the use of illegal substances. The abuse of substances was measured using a self-report of if an individual had ever abused cocaine or marijuana.


The independent variables of spirituality and religion were made up of attending religious services, the importance of spirituality, the importance of faith, and religious affiliation. The religious affiliation was further grouped into whether the adolescent was connected with domination or religion. This was evaluated whether the specific individual ever had faith or was agnostic. The attendance of the religious services was determined by if the person attended the religious services at least a day in a week. The importance of spirituality and religion were both assessed through if the adolescent had felt spirituality and religion were crucial versus whether they were not vital. Spirituality and religion are anticipated to have an inverse relationship with substance abuse and crime due to the higher opportunity costs linked to religious adolescents. The jail populations also have higher numbers of individuals with psychiatric or emotional issues. Thus, this study expects that people having good emotional health will likely commit fewer acts of delinquency. The peer environment is believed to have a direct relationship with misconduct because when the friends of an adolescent engage illegally, the adolescent would also take part in these illegal actions. After the elements introduced in the Social Contract Theory, there are expectations that busy individuals take part in fewer criminal acts. It is also anticipated that an adolescent who has close bonds with parents commits fewer crimes due to having more parental guidance. There is also a broader expectation that male adolescents having low family incomes will commit crimes. Given the amount of literature on high rates of corruption in the inner city and urban centers, there are expectations that these two variables have inverse relations with substance abuse and corruption.


A lot of evidence point towards the involvement of religion in lowering the risks of delinquent behaviors, including both major and minor types of criminal behavior. Nonetheless, these previous studies have not catered for different variables. The goal of this paper is to introduce and address two crucial questions relating to delinquency in Hong Kong. There have been many studies being carried out on misconduct on religion in countries such as the U.S., France, and even China. However, fewer studies have not focused on Hong Kong which is a fast-growing city. This current study aims at unveiling the roles of religion in delinquency rates among adolescents in Hong Kong.


Ethics in research has remained one of the most critical issues in social science research. The central moral principle in any study is the minimization of harms caused to the participants. This research needed approval from the ethics committee since it contained human participants. There are three major ethical issues addressed in this research. These include defining human subjects, persons, and private or public space. The researchers were made aware of their rights before the experiment was carried out, the ways data was collected, and that their identity would not be revealed. Some other issues for consideration included the methods of data collection, and whether the information which was obtained was traceable to the research participants. There are no direct quotations of the research participants.


This type of research faces many barriers. As demonstrated, criminal groups grow into criminals. This could affect the investigations of the impact of religion in their lives. The small size of the population under study, which is partly due to the limited time for the review, is also another limitation which will have an impact on the outcome. Some of the information provided is subject to bias because they come from personal experiences. There is also a limitation in the resources available in carrying out this research which could have an impact on the overall result of the study.