Delayed Adulthood, Delayed Desistance? Trends in the Age Distribution of Problem Behaviors

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Abstract

As the transition to adulthood becomes more protracted and less orderly, fewer young people occupy adult roles and experience the social control associated with these roles. One might therefore expect behaviors associated with the teenage years to spill over into older age groups, reflecting postponed entrance into full social adulthood. We test this hypothesis by examining trends over time in the age distribution of crime, substance use, and violent death. We find little evidence that behaviors typical of adolescence are moving upward to older ages. Although the achievement of adult roles is being pushed to older ages, this stretching of the transition to adulthood is not reflected in the observed patterns of substance use, violent death, and arrests.

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