Is Emerging Adulthood Influencing Moffitt's Developmental Taxonomy? Adding the "Prolonged" Adolescent Offender

Article excerpt

Abstract: The study of offender trajectories has been a prolific area of criminological research. However, few studies have incorporated the influence of emerging adulthood, a recently identified stage of the life course, on offending trajectories. The present study addressed this shortcoming by introducing the "prolonged adolescent" offender, a low-level offender between the ages of 18 and 25 that has failed to successfully transition into adult social roles. A theoretical background based in prior research in life-course criminology and emerging adulthood is presented. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health analyses examined the relationship between indicators of traditional turning points and social bonds and low-level criminal offending and drug use. Several indicators including education, economic instability, and parental attachment were all predictive of offending and drug use.

Keywords: Emerging Adulthood, prolonged adolescent offender, crime, drug use, and life-course criminology


The journey to adulthood has drastically changed in the United States and other developed nations over the last 50 years (Cote 2000). Social scientists have noted the extension of the period between adolescence and adulthood; traditional markers of adulthood, such as marriage have been postponed resulting in delayed transitions to adulthood (Arnett 1998; Cote 2000). This prolonged stage of the life course has been identified as emerging adulthood (Arnett 1998). This period typically lasts from about age 18 to 25; although for many it can extend through the twenties and thirties. Many in emerging adulthood have high rates of risky and delinquent behaviors usually seen in adolescence. They have the potential to inundate jails and courts, further straining the already limited resources of the criminal justice system. It is argued here that this new stage of the life course may be influencing offending trajectories and extending the period of active offending for some low-level offenders, hereafter referred to as "prolonged" adolescent offenders. The prolonged adolescent offender is defined as a low-level criminal offender (defined here as an offender who participates in less serious, non-violent crimes such as shoplifting), between the ages of 18 and 25 that has failed to transition to adult social roles that inhibit deviance and increase social bonds. As a result, prolonged adolescent offenders continue to commit low-level offenses (e.g., vandalism, being loud and rowdy in a public place) typically seen in adolescents.

Research dealing with emerging adulthood has focused mainly on risky behaviors such as reckless driving and substance use (Arnett 1998; Arnett 2005; Chassin, Pitts, and Prost, 2002; White, Labouvie, and Papadaratsakis 2005). Up to this point, there has been only a limited examination of crime during emergent adulthood (Markowitz and Salvatore 2012; Piquero, Brame, Mazerolle, and Haapanen 2002). The present study addresses this limitation by directly incorporating emerging adulthood into criminology, providing an examination of how emerging adulthood may be altering offending for some young adults. While prior studies have suggested that the 'maturity gap' identified by Moffitt (1993) may lead to longer periods of offending for some youth offenders, this study attempts to directly tie the influence of emerging adulthood to offending and to lay the foundation for further studies that may explore the influence of emerging adulthood on crime.

As the term "prolonged adolescent" implies, persons in this category have failed to make on-time transitions, normatively defined (relative to social norms) as transitions made at an age considered appropriate (relative to social norms), or meet turning points in trajectories that mark the entrance into adulthood (Laub and Sampson 2003; Thornberry 1997). For the first half of the twentieth century in the United States and other high income nations, transitions included going to college, getting a job, marrying, and having a family occurred during the late teens and early twenties (Arnett 2000; Cote 2000). …


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