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Group-Based Trajectory Modeling: An Overview

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Handbook of Quantitative Criminology

Abstract

This chapter provides an overview of a group-based statistical methodology for analyzing developmental trajectories – the evolution of an outcome over age or time. A detailed account of the method’s statistical underpinnings and a full range of applications are provided in Nagin (2005).

In this discussion, the term developmental trajectory is used to describe the progression of any phenomenon, whether behavioral, biological, or physical. Charting and understanding developmental trajectories is among the most fundamental and empirically important research topics in the social and behavioral sciences and medicine. A few prominent examples include: criminological analyses of the progression and causes of criminality over life stages or of time trends of reported crime across geographic locations, psychological studies of the course and antecedents of psychopathologies, sociological investigations into the interaction between human behavior and social context over time, and medical research on the impact of treatments on the progress of diseases.

Longitudinal data – data with a time-based dimension – provide the empirical foundation for the analysis of developmental trajectories. Most standard statistical approaches for analyzing developmental trajectories are designed to account for individual variability about a mean population trend. However, many of the most interesting and challenging problems in longitudinal analysis have a qualitative dimension that allows for the possibility that there are meaningful sub-groups within a population that follow distinctive developmental trajectories that are not identifiable ex ante based on some measured set of individual characteristics (e.g., gender or socioeconomic status). In psychology, for example, there is a long tradition of taxonomic theorizing about distinctive developmental progressions of these sub-categories. For research problems with a taxonomic dimension, the aim is to chart out the distinctive trajectories, to understand what factors account for their distinctiveness and to test whether individuals following the different trajectories also respond differently to a treatment such as a medical intervention or major life event such as the birth of a child. This chapter describes an approach, based upon a formal statistical model, for conducting group-based analysis with time- and age-based data.

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Acknowledgement

This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) (SES-99113700; SES-0647576) and the National Institute of Mental Health (RO1 MH65611–01A2).

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Nagin, D.S. (2010). Group-Based Trajectory Modeling: An Overview. In: Piquero, A., Weisburd, D. (eds) Handbook of Quantitative Criminology. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-77650-7_4

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