Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 709–730 | Cite as

Investigating the Functional Form of the Self-control–Delinquency Relationship in a Sample of Serious Young Offenders

Original Paper



This work further examines the functional form of the self-control–delinquency relationship as an extension of recent work by Mears et al. (J Quant Criminol, 2013). Given the importance of the authors’ conclusions regarding the nonlinear relationship between these two variables and the recognition that there are some potential limitations in the sample and assumptions required for the analytic methods used, we apply both similar and alternative techniques with a data set comprised of serious youthful offenders to determine whether key findings can be replicated.


Data from the Pathways to Desistance study, which comprise extensive individual and social history interviews with 1,354 offenders over multiple waves spread out over 84 months, is utilized in this analysis. These data are well-suited to investigating the questions of interest as the target population comprises youth with offending histories that are more extensive than those likely to be found in general surveys of adolescents. The analyses consider the self-control–delinquency relationship in an alternative sample with the previously used Generalized Propensity Score (GPS) procedure, which requires strong assumptions, as well as nonparametric regression which requires far weaker assumptions to consider the functional form of the self-control–delinquency relationship.


The results generally show that the identified functional form of the self-control–delinquency relationship seems to be at least partly dependent on aspects of the modeling of dose–response associated with GPS procedures. When nonparametric general additive models are used with the same data, the relationship between self-control and delinquency seems to be approximately linear.


Identifying functional form relationships has importance for many criminological theories, but it is a task that requires that the balance of model assumptions to exploratory data analysis falls toward the latter. Nonparametric approaches to such questions may be a necessary first step in learning about the nature of mechanisms presumed to be at work in important explanations for crime and criminality.


Functional form General theory of crime Generalized Propensity Score Nonparametric models 



This study employs data from Mulvey, Edward P. Research on Pathways to Desistance (Maricopa County, AZ and Philadelphia County, PA): Subject Measures, 2000–2010. ICPSR29961-v2. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2013-01-07. doi: 10.3886/ICPSR29961.v2. We wish to thank Carol Schubert for her assistance in compiling and transferring the data and members of the Pathways to Desistance research group for helpful comments on an early concept paper and Ray Paternoster and the anonymous reviewers for useful feedback on later versions of this work. All interpretations and conclusions reached in this work are those of the authors. Additionally, a portion of this article uses data from ADD Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by a Grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Special acknowledgment is due to Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Persons interested in obtaining data files from ADD Health should contact ADD Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2524 ( No direct support was received from Grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CincinnatiCincinnatiUSA
  2. 2.University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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