The initiation of homeless youth into the street economy

Marya Viorst Gwadz, Karla Gostnell, Carol Smolenski, Brian Willis, David Nish, Theresa C. Nolan, Maya Tharaken, Amanda S. Ritchie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Homeless youth (HY) who lack employment in the formal economy typically turn to the street economy (e.g., prostitution, drug selling) for survival. Guided by the theory of social control, the present paper explores factors influencing HY's initiation into the street economy. Eighty HY (ages 15-23) were recruited from four community-based organizations. All participated in structured interviews and 25% participated in qualitative interviews. Almost all HY had participated in the street (81%) and formal economies (69%). Five main factors simultaneously influenced initiation into the street economy: social control/bonds, barriers to the formal economy (e.g., homelessness, educational deficits, mental health problems, incarceration, stigma), tangible and social/emotional benefits of the street economy, severe economic need, and the active recruitment of HY into the street economy by others. Qualitative and quantitative data sources were congruent. Intervention efforts are needed at multiple levels of influence to promote HY's success in the formal economy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-377
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Adolescence
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • Formal economy
  • Homeless youth
  • Mixed methods
  • Street economy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'The initiation of homeless youth into the street economy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this