Abstract: The Importance of Both Self Control and Social Control in Preventing Arrest in Young Adulthood: A Nationally Represented Longitudinal Study (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12378 The Importance of Both Self Control and Social Control in Preventing Arrest in Young Adulthood: A Nationally Represented Longitudinal Study

Sunday, January 17, 2010: 10:45 AM
Pacific Concourse K (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Stephen J. Tripodi, PhD , Florida State University, Assistant Professor, Tallahassee, FL
Kimberly A. Bender, PhD , University of Denver, Assistant Professor, Denver, CO
Sanna Thompson, PhD , University of Texas at Austin, Associate Professor, Austin, TX
Jemel Aguilar, PhD , University of Texas at Austin, Assistant Professor, Austin, TX
Background and Purpose: Control theorists debate whether self-control or social control is more influential in restraining people from committing crimes. Some criminological research suggests that individuals with low self-control are more likely to commit criminal behaviors. According to these criminologists, low self-control is generally determined early in life based on unhealthy attachments to parents or guardians and continues to affect individuals into adulthood. Other theorists assert that individuals that lack traditional social bonds such as marriage, education, and employment are more likely to commit a crime. Rather than engaging in this debate, this study argues that self-control in fact leads to social control, and the two together restrain individuals from committing crimes. Specifically, this study is among the first to longitudinally examine the influence of self-control in forming three types of social bonds commonly associated with preventing criminal activity: education, employment, and marriage.

Methods: Data from waves 1 and 3 of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health [1994-2002] was analyzed, allowing investigation of a nationally representative sample of youth (N=4,875) in grades 7-12 during their transitions into young adulthood. In addition to sociodemographic control variables, measures included self-control during adolescence (wave 1), and marriage, employment, education (graduation from high school) and arrest during adulthood (wave 3). Logistic regression models tested the effects of childhood self-control on the formation of social bonds (marriage, education, employment), while controlling for relevant background variables. Logistic regression analyses further examined whether social bonds helped explain the relationship between self-control and arrest. Data utilized across waves allowed investigation of these relationships longitudinally.

Results: Regression analyses indicate that youth with poor self-control were less likely to graduate from high school, but were no less likely to get married or be employed than youth with high self-control. A final regression model demonstrated that both poor self-control and failure to graduate high school significantly predicted arrest. This suggests that educational bonds may partially explain the effect of self-control on arrest during young adulthood.

Conclusions and Implications: Results support prior theoretical claims that lack of self-control may have origins early in life that continue to influence criminal behavior into adulthood. However, the current study extends this knowledge by highlighting the importance of education as a partial explanation for how youth with low self-control are put at risk for adult criminal behavior. Specifically, youth who exhibit low levels of self-control in adolescence are more likely to drop out of school, and, school dropout increases their risk for arrest in adulthood. Such longitudinal findings are rare and contribute to the social work and criminology literature by demonstrating a relationship between self-control and social control factors associated with antisocial behavior. These findings are particularly relevant for school social workers, suggesting that empirically-based prevention programs that aim to decrease impulsivity and enhance positive school outcomes are essential for youth with low levels of self-control. Such efforts are likely to keep at-risk youth in school through graduation, greatly decreasing their odds of arrest in adulthood.