An Empirical Test of Moffitt's Taxonomy: The Importance of Predictor Variables in Addition to Age of Onset

Daniel Richard King, University of Maryland at College Park

This study is an in-depth look at the variables that Terrie Moffitt (1993) uses to predict whether an individual is an adoelescence-limited offender or a life-course-persistent offender. More specifically, this project attempts to see if variables other than age of onset are of significant value in making this distinction. It seems as if many researchers when evaluating the utility of Moffitt's theory (and most developmental theories of crime, for that matter), have effectively boiled down Moffitt's list of independent variables to just age of onset. This seems less problematic when empirically testing Patterson and his colleagues (1989, 1993) distinction between early- and late-starters, for the obvious reason implied in the names given to the two groups of offenders. Moffitt, however, looks at much more than age of onset in differentiating between the two types of offenders. Moffitt also looks at neurological problems like cognitive and verbal deficits, parents reactions to adolescents with these deficits, social mimicry of life-course-persistent offenders by adolescence-limited offenders, etc.

This study uses data from David Farrington's Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (Great Britain, 19681-1981) to test Moffit's hyupotheses about the differential predictor and outcome variables associated with adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent offenders. According to Moffitt (1993), the best predictor variables for the type of offending associated with life-course-persistent offenders are individual and family characteristics like cognitive ability, hyperactivity, and the type of upbringing in the family of origin. The best predictor variables for outcomes associated with adolescence-limited offenders are hypothesized to be age, delinquent peers, etc. Structural equation modeling (SEM) and multiple regression are used in this study to test these hypotheses.

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Updated 05/20/2006