Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 54–72 | Cite as

With or Without You? Contextualizing the Impact of Romantic Relationship Breakup on Crime Among Serious Adolescent Offenders

  • Matthew LarsonEmail author
  • Gary Sweeten
  • Alex R. Piquero
Empirical Research


The decline and delay of marriage has prolonged adolescence and the transition to adulthood, and consequently fostered greater romantic relationship fluidity during a stage of the life course that is pivotal for both development and offending. Yet, despite a growing literature of the consequences of romantic relationships breakup, little is known about its connection with crime, especially among youth enmeshed in the criminal justice system. This article addresses this gap by examining the effects of relationship breakup on crime among justice-involved youth—a key policy-relevant group. We refer to data from the Pathways to Desistance Study, a longitudinal study of 1354 (14 % female) adjudicated youth from the juvenile and adult court systems in Phoenix and Philadelphia, to assess the nature and complexity of this association. In general, our results support prior evidence of breakup’s criminogenic influence. Specifically, they suggest that relationship breakup’s effect on crime is particularly acute among this at-risk sample, contingent upon post-breakup relationship transitions, and more pronounced for relationships that involve cohabitation. Our results also extend prior work by demonstrating that breakup is attenuated by changes in psychosocial characteristics and peer associations/exposure. We close with a discussion of our findings, their policy implications, and what they mean for research on relationships and crime among serious adolescent offenders moving forward.


Romantic relationships Breakup Crime Cohabitation Transition to adulthood 



The research was supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2000-MU–MU-0007), the National Institute of Justice (199-IJ-CX-0053), the National Institute of Drug Abuse (R01 DA019697-01), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Center for Disease Control, The William Penn Foundation, The Arizona Governor’s Justice Commission, and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. We are grateful for their support. The content of this paper, however, is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of these agencies.

Author contributions

ML and GS contributed equally to the final manuscript. ML conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, and drafted the manuscript; GS participated in the design, analyses, and interpretation of the data, and manuscript revisions; AP participated in the coordination of the study, manuscript revisions, and methodological advising. All authors read and approved this final manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew Larson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gary Sweeten
    • 2
  • Alex R. Piquero
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Criminal JusticeWayne State UniversityDetroitUSA
  2. 2.School of Criminology and Criminal JusticeArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA
  3. 3.Ashbel Smith Professor of Criminology, Program in Criminology, EPPSUniversity of Texas at DallasRichardsonUSA

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