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Disaggregating Self-Reported Delinquency and Its Implications for Theory

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1988
35 pages
This paper examines the theoretical import of disaggregating self-reported delinquency data into two constituent parts: prevalence data, which record the proportion of any group involved in crime and reflect the decision to participate in crime; and incidence data, which record the frequency of offending within the subgroups of participants and reflect the decision to repeat a previously committed offense.
The importance of this conceptual distinction is that different causal facts may be involved in these separate offending decisions and such differences would be obscured if the data were not disaggregated. Major delinquency theories (social learning, social control, strain, and deterrence theories) were examined to determine if theoretical variables are more strongly related to the prevalence or incidence of delinquency using 1982 and 1983 self-report data for 1,544 high school students. Results suggest the propriety of estimating offense-specific models in testing theories of delinquency and disaggregating commonly used measures of self-reported offending into prevalence and incidence components. While there were not striking differences between factors causally related to prevalence and incidence, there were more subtle differences that would have been obscured had a more traditional measure been used. The strength and consistency of support for differential association theory was also highlighted by results. 1 table and 70 references. (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 1988