The value of human life: An individual-level determinant of violence

by Tcherni, Maria, Ph.D., STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT ALBANY, 2011, 180 pages; 3454530


My contribution to the study of causes of violence in criminology is introducing a theoretical concept of the Value of Life (VL) and developing an empirical solution to measuring it. The value that an individual implicitly assigns to the human life – both his/her own life and other people's lives – is a theoretical concept that synthesizes information about precursors, correlates, and determinates of violence. The VL concept provides a meaningful way to explain some phenomena not commonly associated with violent behavior (for example, reckless behavior with regard to one's health), while also illuminating some puzzling associations consistently found in empirical research (for example, correlations between the use of seatbelts, obesity, and smoking; the association of being neglected as a child with subsequent aggression and violence). I also hypothesize that the value of life mediates the relationship between poverty and violence. Thus, the first part of my dissertation is devoted to the review of relevant literature and outlining the value of life theory.

The empirical part of my dissertation consists of several studies. First, empirical validation of the proposed VL measurement is performed using confirmatory factor analysis on individual-level data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) - data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Second, the proposed causal model linking poverty, the value of life, and violence, is estimated using structural equation modeling techniques on individual-level data from the National Survey of Adolescents in the United States (Kilpatrick and Saunders, 1995) and also on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health, 1995, 1996, and 2001). The empirical analyses provide unequivocal support for the proposed concept of the value of life and for the associated causal model. Value of life does indeed mediate the effect of growing up in poverty on subsequent violence and does so independent of alternative explanations of violent behavior. The proposed theory extends our theoretical understanding beyond the predictions of general theories of crime and provides a more nuanced picture of processes leading up to violence.

AdviserColin Loftin
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsSocial research; Criminology
Publication Number3454530

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