Academic journal article International Social Science Review

The Emerging Adulthood Gap: Integrating Emerging Adulthood into Life Course Criminology

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

The Emerging Adulthood Gap: Integrating Emerging Adulthood into Life Course Criminology

Article excerpt

In 1993, clinical psychologist Terrie Moffitt presented a developmental theory that describes two key offending trajectories, the adolescent limited and life course persistent. (1) The adolescent limited trajectory group consists of individuals who mainly engage in lower-level crimes, such as underage drinking and shoplifting, and typically desist by approximately age eighteen. In the second group are individuals in the life-course persistent trajectory, who engage in antisocial behavior earlier in their life course, participate in both lower-level and more serious crimes, such as robberies and assault, as well as the lower-level offenses typical of adolescent limited offenders. These life course persistent offenders do not desist, but instead continue their involvement in offending through adulthood.

Key to Moffitt's work is the idea of the maturity gap, defined as the delay between biological and social maturation, during which adolescents engage in offending due to the frustration experienced by being biologically, but not socially mature, and thereby unable to fully participate in adult society. (2) According to Moffitt, most young offenders are on an adolescent limited trajectory, and offend as a result of the maturity gap desisting once they reach social maturity and are able to participate in the economy. In other words, once youth reach social maturity and are able to fully participate in "adult" society they generally stop engaging in the types of delinquency common during adolescence. For example, an individual may shoplift and fence goods as a way of making money in high school, but once they graduate, they may stop engaging in that behavior since they now have a credential that allows access to higher paying jobs.

More recently, research has begun to incorporate emerging adulthood into the discourse surrounding antisocial behavior. Recent studies explore the potential for criminal onset during emerging adulthood, changes in offending behavior during emerging adulthood, the influence of turning points and social bonds on offending during emerging adulthood, as well as the influence of emerging adulthood on sexual behaviors and drug use. (3) Although these studies lay a solid foundation in the area of emerging adulthood, bringing it into the social science discourse, they have yet to fully conceptualize and theoretically link emerging adulthood into the offending literature. For example, the criminal career paradigm has been firmly linked to developmental stages in the life course. Scholars have found that offending onset, participation, frequency, and desistance are fairly well established concepts in relation to developmental life stages. (4)

However, the same cannot be said about empirical research on emerging adulthood. Studies such as the ones conducted by Christopher Salvatore, Travis Taniguchi, and Wayne Welsh provide support for the notion that emerging adulthood could be integrated into Moffitt's developmental taxonomy but stop short of integrating the ideas empirically due to a lack of longitudinal analyses. (5) Due to the need for this integration, it is necessary to place emerging adulthood within the context of the criminological literature and connect it conceptually and empirically to existing research.

The National Institute of Justice supports the importance of emerging adulthood as an area of criminological inquiry. It conducted a large-scale project that focused on adolescence and emerging adulthood. The project, a "Study Group on the Transitions from Juvenile Delinquency to Adult Crime," had the goal of reviewing research findings about offending during the transition from adolescence to adulthood, as well as exploring the policy implications for the criminal justice system. The "Study Group" utilized several developmental perspectives to review the scientific evidence focusing on offending behaviors between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine. Two key conclusions emerged from the study: there is a large gap in the research dealing with this time period and there is a need for more research exploring why some adolescents transition out of crime during emerging adulthood, whereas others continue to offend. …

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