U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Are Teenage Criminals Getting Younger and Younger?: Exposing Another Urban Legend

NCJ Number
Mike Males, Ph.D.; Daniel Macallair, M.P.A.
Date Published
March 2010
11 pages
Using the FBI's annual arrest data for many key offenses by age, this study calculated the proportion of all teenage murder arrestees who were younger than 15 years old, the rate of murder arrests of those ages 10-14 compared with the rate for ages 10-19 as a whole, and the median ages of teen offenders over time; comparisons with adult arrestees are also presented.
The study found that over the last 40 to 50 years, the average violent offender in America, including the average teenage offender, has become older, not younger. In addition, violent offenses by teens have become significantly less serious over the last 50 years; i.e., they are more likely to be misdemeanors than felonies and to involve violent behavior other than murder. The average younger teen in recent years is much less likely to be a murderer or other serious criminal offender, both in absolute rate and compared to older teens and older adults; there has been an especially dramatic drop in murder and other serious crimes by younger teens over the last 10 to 15 years. The study found that the declining age of all murder arrestees is not a recent trend, but rather occurred from the 1960s to the early 1990s. Violent offenders have been increasing in age steadily for three decades, and offenders who have committed serious Part I offenses have been aging since 1968. The findings of this study challenge news reports and the conclusions of interest groups who have raised the alarm that today's seriously violent teens and children are younger than in previous years. This atmosphere has fostered irrational fear among members of the public, precipitating harsh crackdowns and punishments for youth, who are perceived as a dangerous demographic that must be closely monitored, restricted, and punished. 1 table, 6 figures, and 5 references