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Desistance from persistent serious delinquency in the transition to adulthood


Many delinquent youth stop offending sometime in late adolescence or early adulthood. However, little is known about individual differences in desistance and which factors promote or inhibit desistance. In the current study, young males in the oldest sample of the Pittsburgh Youth Study were followed from ages 13 to 25. About one-third became persistent serious delinquents between ages 13 and 19. Out of that group, almost 40% desisted in serious offending between ages 20 and 25. Significantly more of the desisters, compared to the persisters in serious delinquency, had been employed or in school. Bivariate analyses demonstrated many predictors of desistance of serious delinquency in early adulthood in the domains of individual, family, and peer factors measured from early adolescence onward. Multiple regression analyses showed that the following promotive factors were associated with desistance: low physical punishment by parents in early adolescence and being employed or in school in early adulthood. The following risk factors were inversely associated with desistance during early adulthood: serious delinquency during late adolescence, hard drug use, gang membership, and positive perception of problem behavior in early adulthood. The article discusses the implications of promotive and risk factors for preventive interventions.This article was prepared under Grant 96-MU-FX-0012 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and Grant 050778 from the National Institute of Mental Health. The points of view in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice. We acknowledge Rebecca Stallings for assistance in preparing the data files. Our coauthor, Evelyn Wei, has unfortunately died in a car accident.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Magda Stouthamer–Loeber, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical School, 3811 O'Hara Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15213; E-mail:
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