Low self-control, social bonds, and crime: Social causation, social selection, or both?


Journal Article

This article examines the social-selection and social-causation processes that generate criminal behavior. We describe these processes with three theoretical models: a social-causation model that links crime to contemporaneous social relationships; a social-selection model that links crime to personal characteristics formed in childhood; and a mixed selection-causation model that links crime to social relationships and childhood characteristics. We tested these models with a longitudinal study in Dunedin, New Zealand, of individuals followed from birth through age 21. We analyzed measures of childhood and adolescent low self-control as well as adolescent and adult social bonds and criminal behavior. In support of social selection, we found that low self-control in childhood predicted disrupted social bonds and criminal offending later in life. In support of social causation, we found that social bonds and adolescent delinquency predicted later adult crime and, further, that the effect of self-control on crime was largely mediated by social bonds. In support of both selection and causation, we found that the social-causation effects remained significant even when controlling for preexisting levels of self-control, but that their effects diminished. Taken together, these findings support theoretical models that incorporate social-selection and social-causation processes.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Entner Wright, BRE; Caspi, A; Moffitt, TE; Silva, PA

Published Date

  • January 1, 1999

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 37 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 479 - 514

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0011-1384

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1999.tb00494.x

Citation Source

  • Scopus