Chronological Invariance and Self-Control Theory: A Five-Year Study of 500 Low-Self Control and 500 High-Self Control Adolescents

L. Thomas Winfree, Jr., New Mexico State University
Finn-Aage Esbensen, University of Missouri - St. Louis

Few statements about delinquency's inevitability rivet the attention of criminologists as much as that proposed in Gottfredson and Hirschi's general theory of crime, also known as self control theory. Specifically, they claim that by the age of 10 years a child's self control is fairly fixed, and that low self-control children exhibit far great proclivities for delinquent acts and analogous misbehavior, especially compared to children with higher levels of self control. Their respective levels of self control are relatively immutable over the life course. This claim has been subjected to few tests where time has been a key variable. The present study explores the chronological invariance of the levels of self control exhibited by a group of 12 to 14 year-old middle-school students surveyed as part of a multi-site national assessment of the Gang Resistance and Education Training program. First, we create a panel of 500 youths with the lowest levels of self control and a like number of children with the highest levels of self control at the base year. Next, we explore subsequent measures of self control and self-reported delinquency for the next four years. We address the implications of the findings for self-control theory.

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Updated 05/20/2006