Growing Up Is Hard to Do: An Empirical Evaluation of Maturation and Desistance

Publication Title

Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology

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Department or Program


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Age-Crime Curve, Desistance, Growth Curve Modeling, Maturation


Purpose: With an increase in longitudinal datasets and analyses, scholars have made theoretical advances toward understanding desistance using biological, social, and psychological factors. In an effort to integrate the theoretical views on desistance, some scholars have argued that each of these views represents a piece of adult maturation. Yet to date, research has not empirically examined an integrated perspective. The purpose of this study is to conduct an exploratory examination of various “domains” of maturation to determine whether they explain desistance from crime separately and as a whole. Methods: Using the Rutgers Health and Human Development Project, a longitudinal study spanning ages 12–31, we develop exploratory measures of maturation in five domains: (1) adult social roles, (2) identity/cognitive, (3) psychosocial, (4) civic, and (5) neurocognitive. We then utilize growth curve models to examine the relationship between these domains and crime over time. Results: Although each of the domains is associated with crime at the bivariate level, only three (i.e., psychosocial, identity/cognitive transformation, and adult social role) remain significant in the growth curve models (only two in within-individual analyses). In addition, a combined measure of maturation is related to crime, indicating that greater maturation through emerging adulthood has a negative effect on criminal behavior and is, therefore, a factor influencing desistance. Conclusions: Maturation emerges as a promising approach to integrating the multiple theoretical views that characterize the literature on desistance from crime. Further research should develop additional domains and determine the best approach for measurement.

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