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Social gradients in child and adolescent antisocial behavior: a systematic review protocol

Patrycja J Piotrowska*, Christopher B Stride and Richard Rowe

Author Affiliations

Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TP, UK

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Systematic Reviews 2012, 1:38  doi:10.1186/2046-4053-1-38

Published: 23 August 2012



The relationship between social position and physical health is well-established across a range of studies. The evidence base regarding social position and mental health is less well developed, particularly regarding the development of antisocial behavior. Some evidence demonstrates a social gradient in behavioral problems, with children from low-socioeconomic backgrounds experiencing more behavioral difficulties than children from high-socioeconomic families. Antisocial behavior is a heterogeneous concept that encompasses behaviors as diverse as physical fighting, vandalism, stealing, status violation and disobedience to adults. Whether all forms of antisocial behavior show identical social gradients is unclear from previous published research. The mechanisms underlying social gradients in antisocial behavior, such as neighborhood characteristics and family processes, have not been fully elucidated. This review will synthesize findings on the social gradient in antisocial behavior, considering variation across the range of antisocial behaviors and evidence regarding the mechanisms that might underlie the identified gradients.


In this review, an extensive manual and electronic literature search will be conducted for papers published from 1960 to 2011. The review will include empirical and quantitative studies of children and adolescents (<=18 years old) recruited from the general population, which include measures of both social position and antisocial behavior. A standardized data extraction form and quality appraisal checklist will be used to retrieve essential information and critically appraise each study and the inter-rater reliability of the quality scores will be assessed. If practical, meta-analysis will be used to synthesize the data. However, it is expected that the selected studies will be heterogeneous, in which case narrative synthesis will be applied. Separate conclusions may be drawn for logically grouped studies on the basis of their quality score, scope or methodology.


This systematic review has been proposed in order to synthesize cross-disciplinary evidence of the social gradient in antisocial behavior and mechanisms underlying this effect. The results of the review will inform social policies aiming to reduce social inequalities and levels of antisocial behavior, and identify gaps in the present literature to guide further research.

Antisocial behavior; Social gradient; Social inequalities; Conduct Disorder; Oppositional-Defiant Disorder; Socioeconomic status