Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 157–181 | Cite as

The implications of age of onset for delinquency risk II: Longitudinal data

  • Patrick H. Tolan
  • Peter Thomas


The role of age of onset in the level of involvement in delinquent behavior as marked by seriousness and chronicity of involvement continues to draw extensive attention from researchers. This issue bears on some of the key causal contentions about the dynamism of involvement and the validity of a developmental model of antisocial behavior risk. Five waves of the National Youth Survey were utilized here to determine if, among a nationally representative sample, there was evidence of onset age influence on later involvement. Results suggest that early onset (before age 12) relates to higher rates of more serious acts over a longer period of time for boys and girls. Overall, the results suggest support for early onset spurring on later involvement, but the contribution is small once psychosocial predictors are considered. Onset age seems most important in understanding involvement in serious crime over several years. Involvement is explained best by peer variables for males and school and family variables for females. Onset age is explained by a wider range of variables than involvement and there is greater similarity of the psychosocial variables that explain onset for both genders. The interaction of involvement and predictors was noted, suggesting a dynamic model of risk. Implications for prediction and prevention are discussed.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Blumstein, A., Farrington, D. P., & Moitra, S. (1985). Delinquency careers: Innocents, desisters, and persisters. In M. Tonry & N. Morris (Eds.),Crime and justice (Vol. 6, pp. 187–222). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. David, L. A., & Tolan, P. H. (1993). Alternative interventions. In P. H. Tolan & B. J. Cohler (Eds.),Handbook of clinical research and practice with adolescents (pp. 427–451). New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  3. Elliott, D. S., Ageton, S. S., & Huizinga, D. (1985).Explaining delinquency and drug use. Beverly Hills: Siegel.Google Scholar
  4. Elliott, D. S., Ageton, S. S., Huizinga, D., Knowles, B. A., & Canter, R. J. (1983).The prevalence and incidence of delinquent behavior: 1976–1980 (The National Youth Survey Report No. 26). Boulder, CO: Behavioral Research Institute.Google Scholar
  5. Elliott, D. S., Dunford, F. W., & Huizinga, D. (1987). The identification and prediction of career offenders utilizing self-reported and official data. In J. D. Burchard & S. N. Burchard (Eds.),Prevention of delinquent behavior (pp. 90–121). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Elliott, D. S., Huizinga, D., & Menard, (1988).Multiple problem youth: Delinquency, substance use, and mental health problems. New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  7. Farrington, D. P., & Hawkins, J. D. (1991). Predicting participation, early onset and later persistence in officially recorded offending.Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, 1, 1–33.Google Scholar
  8. Farrington, D. P., Loeber, R., Elliott, D. S., Hawkins, J. D., Kandel, D. B., Klein, M. W., McCord, J., Rowe, D. C., & Tremblay, R. E. (1990). Advancing knowledge about the onset of delinquency and crime. In B. B. Lahey & A. E. Kazdin (Eds.),Clinical child psychology (Vol. 13, pp. 283–342). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  9. Farrington, D. P., & West, D. J. (in press). The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development: A long-term follow-up of 411 London males. In G. Kaiser & H. J. Kerner (Eds.),Criminality: Personality, behaviour, life history. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  10. Gottfredson, M., & Hirschi, T. (1990).A general theory of crime. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Guerra, N. G., Huesmann, L. R., Tolan, P. H., Van Acker, R., & Eron, L. (1984).Correlates of environmental risk for aggression among inner city children: Implications for preventive intervention. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  12. Guerra, N. G., Tolan, P. H., & Hammond, R. (1992, April).Prevention and treatment of adolescent violence. Paper prepared for the American Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth.Google Scholar
  13. Hirschi, T., Hindelang, M. J., & Weis, J. G. (1981).Measuring delinquency. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  14. Hollingshead, A. B. (1975). Two factor index of social position. Unpublished. New Haven, CT.Google Scholar
  15. Loeber, R. (1988). Natural histories of conduct problems, delinquency, and associated substance use: Evidence for developmental progressions. In B. B. Lahey & A. E. Kazdin (Eds.),Advances in clinical psychology (Vol. 11, pp. 73–124). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  16. Loeber, R., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., Van Kammen, W., & Farrington, D. P. (1989). Development of a new measure of self-reported antisocial behavior for young children: Prevalence and reliability. In M. Klein (Ed.),Cross-national research in self-reported crime and delinquency (pp. 203–226). Boston, MA: Kluwer-Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  17. Lorion, R. P., Price, R. H., & Eaton, W. W. (1988). The prevention of child and adolescent disorders: From theory to research. In D. Shaffer, I. Philips, & M. M. Silverman (Eds.),Prevention of mental disorders, alcohol, and other drug use in children and adolescents (Chap. 2). Rockville, MD: Office for Substance Abuse Prevention.Google Scholar
  18. Lorion, R. P., Tolan, P. H., & Wahler, R. G. (1987). Prevention. In H. C. Quay (Ed.),Handbook of juvenile delinquency (pp. 383–416). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  19. Moffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: A developmental taxonomy.Psychological Review, 100, 674–701.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Nagin, D., & Farrington, D. P. (1992a). The onset and persistence of offending.Criminology, 30, 501–523.Google Scholar
  21. Nagin, D., & Farrington, D. P. (1992b). The stability of criminal potential from childhood to adulthood.Criminology, 30, 235–260.Google Scholar
  22. Nagin, D., & Paternoster, R., (1991). On the relationship of past to future delinquency.Criminology, 29, 163–189.Google Scholar
  23. Sameroff, A. J., Seifer, R., Baldwin, A., & Baldwin, C. (1993). Stability of intelligence from preschool to adolescence: The influence of social and family risk factors.Child Development, 64, 80–97.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Smith, D. A., Visher, C., & Jayoura, G. C. (1991). Dimensions of delinquency: Exploring the correlates of participation, frequency, and persistence of delinquent behavior.Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 28, 6–32.Google Scholar
  25. Tolan, P. H. (1987a). Implications of age of onset for delinquency risk identification.Journal of Community Psychology, 15, 47–65.Google Scholar
  26. Tolan, P. H. (1987b, November).Age of onset and delinquency patterns, legal status, and chronicity of offending. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Montreal, Quebec.Google Scholar
  27. Tolan, P. H. (1988a). Delinquent behaviors and male adolescent development: A preliminary study.Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 17, 413–427.Google Scholar
  28. Tolan, P. H. (1988b). Socioeconomic, family, and social stress correlates of adolescents' antisocial and delinquent behavior.Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 16, 317–332.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Tolan, P. H. (1990). Family therapy, substance abuse, and adolescents: Moving from isolated cultures to related components.Journal of Family Psychology, 3, 454–465.Google Scholar
  30. Tolan, P. H., & Guerra, N. G. (in press). Prevention of delinquency in adolescents.Journal of Applied and Preventive Psychology. Google Scholar
  31. Tolan, P. H., Guerra, N. G., Van Acker, R., Huesmann, R., & Eron, L. (1993).Prevalence of psychopathology among urban children: Age, ethnicity, community, and gender patterns. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  32. Tolan, P. H., & Loeber, R. (1993). Antisocial behavior. In P. H. Tolan & B. J. Cohler (Eds.),Handbook of clinical research and practice with adolescents (pp. 207–331). New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  33. Tolan, P. H., & Lorion, R. P. (1988). Multivariate approaches to the identification of delinquency-proneness in males.American Journal of Community Psychology, 16, 547–561.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. White, J. L., Moffitt, T. E., Earls, F., Robins, L., & Silva, P. A. (1990). How early can we tell? Predictors of childhood conduct disorder and adolescent delinquency.Criminology, 28, 507–533.Google Scholar
  35. Wilson, J. Q., & Herrnstein, R. J. (1985).Crime and human nature. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick H. Tolan
    • 1
  • Peter Thomas
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Juvenile ResearchUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations