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Pathways of crime and delinquency: A life-course analysis of informal social control of antisocial behaviour

TitlePathways of crime and delinquency: A life-course analysis of informal social control of antisocial behaviour
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsJacob, J. C.
UniversityUniversity of Waterloo
CityWaterloo, ON

The aim of this dissertation is to provide a comprehensive examination of crime and delinquency over the early life-course through an informal social control perspective. Specifically, the dissertation examines how sources of informal social control (including family, school, work, peers, and community) influence the development of, and continuity and change in antisocial propensity and behaviour. Using a three-wave panel model with lagged and synchronous effects, estimated by a series of structural equation models, I follow a nationally representative birth cohort (born 1984-1985) from the age of 10 to the age of 19, through the first five cycles of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY). The analyses are done in three life-stages: childhood, adolescence and emerging adulthood. This study represents the first national-level examination of the influences of informal social control on the development of, and continuity and change in, crime and delinquency in Canada. Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, criminal responsibility begins at age twelve. Considerable evidence shows that prior to this age, children exhibit signs of aggressive and antisocial behaviour which may lead to teenage delinquency and crime in adulthood. The theoretical foundation of my dissertation integrates age-graded informal social control theory, collective efficacy, and social disorganization theory. Traditionally, social control theories of crime such as Gottfredson and Hirschi's (1990) general theory of crime have assumed that deviance is stable over the life course. During childhood, social bonds to institutions such as the family and school teach children to internalize the norms and values of society. Deviance arises when these social bonds are weak and remains stable over the life course. Age-graded theory of informal social control by Sampson and Laub (1993) challenges the assumption of stability. This theory argues that deviant behaviour has elements of both stability (continuity) and change (discontinuity) over time. Under this life course perspective, social bonds are relevant at all life stages. Individuals may modify antisocial trajectories during adolescence or young adulthood with new age-appropriate social bonds such as a positive relationship with school or with nondelinquent peers. The results of the research confirm that antisocial propensity and behaviour are characterized by stability and change over the life course. Social bonds are the primary mechanism through which antisocial behaviours are developed or regulated, in childhood. Informal social control further mediates effects of community disorganization characteristics and family background characteristics on antisocial behaviour in childhood. There is stability in antisocial behaviour from childhood to adolescence to early adulthood, suggesting continuity in an underlying propensity. At the same time, there are changes in antisocial behaviour at each life-stage. The importance of social bonding extends beyond childhood into adolescence, as age-graded sources of informal social control contribute to changes in antisocial and delinquent behaviour. Furthermore, individuals are subject to varying levels and sources of informal social controls as they age: during childhood, informal social controls from families and school have the greatest influence on the development of antisocial behaviour, but during adolescence, school bonds and peer associations account for most of the variation in antisocial behaviour. Finally, emerging adults do not appear to be as subject to the effects of social control as children or adolescents. In emerging adulthood, changes in antisocial behaviour may be the result of a process of maturation. The results suggest that social bonds are dynamic and different sources of informal control are more or less important during different stages of the life course.

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