The Deterrent Capacities of Marriage: Gender, Assortative Mating, and Crime in Early Adulthood

Ross MacMillan, University of Minnesota

The wide spread use of longitudinal data has redrawn attention to the impact of social relations in adulthood on the likelihood of involvement in crime. The age-structure of criminal offending indicates that offending increases sharply through adolescence, peaks in late adolescence or early adulthood, and then declines rapidly with advancing years (Hirschi and Gottfredson 1983). Criminologists have thus focused on aspects of the transition to adulthood, particularly the acquisition of work and family, as the mechanism that appears to deter crime in later years. Sampson and Laub (1993) in perhaps the most important statement on the issue, suggest that the acquisition of work and family constitutes social capital which can facilitate turning points in deviant life courses. While they also emphasize cumulative continuity, that adolescents with histories of antisocial and delinquent behavior will be less likely to acquire stable, committed work or form strong attachments to spouses, they nonetheless argue that prior delinquents can and do acquire attachments to work and family and when they do they are likely to not engage in crime (see also Horney, Marshall and Osgood 1995). Theoretically, such work emphasizes the deterrent capacities of social bonds and hence builds upon the extensive tradition of social control theory in criminology (Hirschi 1969).

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Updated 05/20/2006