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Gender, Self-Control, and Informal Social Control in Adolescence: A Test of Three Models of the Continuity of Delinquent Behavior

NCJ Number
Youth & Society Volume: 33 Issue: 4 Dated: June 2002 Pages: 479-514
W. Alex Mason; Michael Windle
Date Published
June 2002
36 pages
This study tested three theories of delinquent behavior to see if childhood behavior problems were related to adolescent delinquency.
Childhood conduct problems place boys and girls at increased risk for involvement in juvenile delinquency, which increases risk for involvement in adult crime. According to the general theory of crime, the primary cause of delinquent behavior is low self-control, emerging early in life as a result of ineffective socialization. The social control theory states that social controls, especially those that are informal, inhibit norm-violating behavior. There are four elements of social bonding: attachment; commitment; involvement in conventional activities, such as school and work; and holding beliefs that endorse conventional values and norms. The age-graded theory of informal social control assumes that crime and other forms of deviance result in part from weak or broken bonds to society. The difference between this theory and social control theory is that the former acknowledges the role of both state dependence (social control processes) and population heterogeneity (self-control) in the continuity of delinquent behavior. The three theories were evaluated with a series of nested structural equation models in a sample of 840 middle adolescents. The results showed that, for boys, there was clear support for the mixed, partial mediation models of the associations between self-control and major and minor delinquency. Childhood behavior problems had both direct and indirect effects on adolescent crime and risky behavior. The results for girls stood in contrast to those for boys. The direct model implied by the general theory was supported regarding girls’ involvement in major delinquency. Analyses revealed that the effect of self-control on major delinquency was direct and unmediated. 4 figures, 3 tables, appendix, 4 notes, 77 references