Date of Award

Fall 2010

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Michele M Dillon


Developmental perspectives emphasize understanding the etiology of offending across the life course and in relation to other analogous behaviors (i.e. mental illness, substance use, academic failure, social problems). Two prominent DLC theories---Moffitt's (1993) Developmental Taxonomy and Sampson and Laub's (1993) Age Graded Theory (AGT) of Informal Social Control---offer differing perspectives on the etiology of offending. Moffitt (1993) contends that four types of offenders can be identified in the general population based on various individual deficits, family problems and analogous behaviors. Sampson and Laub (1993) argue offending is a consequence of opportunities to offend and the inability of society to exert proper control over individuals' hedonistic desires.

I use the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) to compare the efficacy of the two theories for explaining offending among contemporary American emerging adults aged 18-25 years old. Consistent with developmental perspectives, factors affecting life circumstances of emerging adults are also examined as risk (poverty) and buffers (neighborhood cohesion, economic emerging adults exhibit low levels of offending and analogous problems. Yet, 55% of emerging adults in the low offending group (exhibiting normal behavior) reported driving under the influence of alcohol in the past year. Thus, substance related offending appears to be a common phenomenon among emerging adults.

Being very poor is associated with more than twice the relative risk of being in a multiple problem profile that includes high levels of offending and serious concomitant problems such as mental illness, substance dependence, arrests and academic failure. The belief that religion is important---but not church attendance, economic supports, or neighborhood cohesion---protects emerging adults from offending, analogous problems, and problematic overall functioning, regardless of economic status. I found support for a number of the propositions shared by AGT and the Developmental Taxonomy. However, because of its inability to account for between individual differences in severity and types of offending there is less support for AGT than for the Developmental Taxonomy. Implications for future theoretical elaboration and advancing the study of offending among American emerging adults are discussed.