The Correlates of Self-Reported Delinquency: An Analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth

1. Introduction

Since the seminal work of Glueck and Glueck (1950, 1968), considerable research has been conducted in the social sciences to identify factors correlated with delinquency. One of the more important findings that has emerged is the general understanding that such factors do not operate in isolation from one another. Rather, correlates of delinquency often have additive or interactive effects that increase the risk of delinquency for youth who experience multiple factors (Thornberry, Huizinga & Loeber, 1995). Moreover, many factors tend to be involved in reciprocal relationships wherein delinquency leads to further deficits in the very factors most closely associated with it (Thornberry, Lizotte, Krohn, Farnworth & Jang, 1994). Delinquency, therefore, may perpetuate its very existence. Nevertheless, identifying individual correlates is still crucial to the prevention or reduction of criminal behavior in youth by providing direction to the development of appropriate interventions.

Delinquency correlates are often grouped into static factors (i.e., factors that are not amendable to change through direct interventions) and dynamic factors (i.e., those that are amendable to change through direct interventions). This distinction is useful when developing interventions designed to reduce delinquency, as dynamic factors can be targeted for change in an effort to prevent further criminal behavior (Andrews & Bonta, 1998).

The most commonly discussed static factors are gender and age. The risk for criminal involvement is significantly higher for male youth compared to female youth (Bor, Najman, O’Callaghan, Williams, & Anstey, 2001; Lipsey & Derzon, 1998; Moffitt, 1993; Smith, Visher, & Jarjoura, 1991). However, according to Statistics Canada (see Stevenson, Tufts, Hendrick, & Kowalski, 1998) the gender gap is shrinking, as an increasing number of females are engaging in criminal behaviors. Age is considered one of the more robust correlates as the prevalence of delinquency increases in early adolescence and peaks in young adulthood (Gomme, 1985; Loeber, Stouthamer-Loeber, Van Kammen, & Farrington, 1991; McCord, Widom, & Crowell, 2001; Moffitt, 1993). Two additional factors found in the literature that are often labelled static are child maltreatment and socio-economic status. A history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or neglect, has been found to increase the likelihood of delinquent behavior (Malinosky-Rummell & Hansen, 1993; Scudder, Blount, Heide & Silverman, 1993; Stewart, Dennison & Waterson, 2002; Widom, 1989; Zingraff, Leiter, Myers & Johsen, 1993). The relationship between socio-economic status and delinquency, however, is unclear. While some studies do indicate that youth from lower status families are at a higher risk for delinquency than those from higher status families (Farrington, 1989; Lispey & Derzon, 1998), this finding is not consistent across studies (Tittle & Meier, 1991; Wilkström & Loeber, 2000).

Dynamic factors are typically considered to be of greater importance as they represent precursors of delinquency that have the potential to be changed through individual intervention (Hawkins, Herrenkohl, Farrington, Brewer, Catalano, & Harachi, 1998). Youth Justice Research Series / Department of Justice Canada 1 The Correlates of Self-Reported Delinquency: An Analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth One of the primary dynamic factors correlated with delinquency is inadequate parenting including inconsistent parenting styles (McCord et al, 2001; Hawkins, et al, 1998), lower levels of parental supervision (Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986), and poor childparent attachment (Blaske, Borduin, Henggeler & Mann, 1989; Rankin & Wells, 1990). A second dynamic factor correlated with delinquency is poor school attachment including repeating a grade and early withdrawal from school (McCord et al., 2001; Thornberry, Lizotte, Krohn, Farnworth, & Jang, 1991). Children who display antisocial attitudes (Andrews & Bonta, 1998) or who live with parents who demonstrate antisocial attitudes (Hawkins et al., 1998; McCord, 1991) are also at an elevated risk of becoming involved in delinquent behavior. Additionally, association with antisocial peers have been identified as contributing to participation in delinquency (Andrews & Bonta, 1998; Bell, 1999; Lawrence, 1991; McCord et al., 2001; Lispey & Derzon, 1998; Matsueda & Anderson, 1998; Warr, 1993).

One of the more salient dynamic correlates of delinquency in childhood is aggression (Bor et al., 2001; Farrington, 1989; Hawkins et al., 1998; McLaren, 2000; Moffitt, 1993). In fact, Laub and Lauritsen (1993) argue that, “the stability of aggressive behavior patterns throughout the life course is one of the most consistently documented patterns found in longitudinal research” (p. 239). There are a number of additional dynamic factors associated with delinquency, including conduct disorders and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Farrington, 1989; Hawkins et al., 1998; Oddone-Paolucci, Violato & Wilkes, 2000).

The present study was primarily designed to identify the significant correlates of delinquency among youth between the ages of 12 and 15, using Canadian data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY). This data source was also useful in providing information on the prevalence of delinquency in Canada within this age group. Previous research in this area has focused on broad definitions of delinquency, including behaviors that are not considered ‘criminal’ by today’s standards, such as truancy, general disobedience, and promiscuity. This study defined delinquency more strictly as a violation of the current Criminal Code of Canada and did not include non-criminal misbehavior.

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