Social Causation, Self-Selection, and Desistance From Offending: Disentangling the Marriage-Crime Relationship

David W.M. Sorensen, Rutgers University

While most criminologists assume a causal connection between marriage and desistance, there is little consensus on whether this relationship is conditional verus unconditional, or direct versus indirect. All of these perspectives do, however, share the common assumption that marriage has some genuine causal effect on reducing offending. Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) have challenged this assumption by arguing that the relationship between "positive" life events, such as marriage, and desistance is spurious, and that their statistical association is attributable to time-stable characteristics of the individual. The current article uses seven waves of panel data from the National Youth Survey (N=1,725); ages 11-17) to explore the relationship between marriage and desistance with special attention to interaction, mediation, and causal attribution. Pooled-wave fixed effects models provide estimates for the influence of time-varying, independent variables while controlling for all stable individual differences between subjects. The cumulative results of these analyses speak not only to the specifics of the marriage-crime relationship, but also to the much broader question of whether life events can ever influence criminal trajectories.

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Updated 05/20/2006