Are Late Bloomers Real? Identification and Comparison of Late-Onset Offending Patterns from Ages 14-40

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Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology

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Numerous studies have identified a late-onset pattern of offending, yet debate remains over whether this pattern is real or attributable to measurement error. The goal of the present study is to identify whether this late-onset trajectory exists. We used prospective longitudinal data from the Rochester Youth Development Study and group-based trajectory modeling to identify distinct developmental patterns in self-reported incidence of general delinquency from approximately ages 14 to 31. We then examined and compared the means of general, violent, street, and property offending for individuals belonging to late bloomer, chronic, and low-level offending trajectories across three periods: (1) pre-onset (ages 14–17), (2) post-onset (ages 29–31), and (3) for a subset of participants participating in a follow-up study, post-trajectory (ages 32–40). Results confirmed the existence of a distinct late bloomers offending trajectory characterized by low rates of delinquency throughout adolescence and high levels throughout adulthood. Furthermore, late bloomers had similar mean levels of delinquency as low-level offenders and they were considerably lower than chronic offenders in the pre-onset period and similar means of offending as chronic offenders that were considerably higher than low-level offenders in the post-onset and post-trajectory periods. Comparisons of these three groups on adolescent risk and protective factors indicated that late bloomers were more similar to individuals in the low-level trajectory and had fewer risk and more protective factors than individuals following a chronic trajectory. Contrary to prior work which attributes late-onset offending to reliance on official data which fails to detect adolescent offending, late bloomer offending appears to be a genuine phenomenon. These results lend greater support to dynamic theories of crime.


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