The preceding chapter described a variety of possible mechanisms of peer influence and offered some grounds for treating peers as an important element in the etiology of delinquency. This chapter extends the case for peer influence further by demonstrating how peer variables can help to explain some of the most fundamental features of delinquent behavior. It also contrasts the strength of peer influence with another very powerful source of influence in the lives of adolescents – the family.
AGE AND CRIME
One of the most indisputable features of criminal behavior is its age distribution. Though a seemingly mundane phenomenon, the age distribution of criminal behavior is intriguing enough to have caught the attention of Quetelet, the Gluecks, Sutherland, and, in more recent times, Hirschi and Gottfredson, Sampson, Blumstein, Farrington, and others.
What so arouses the attention of criminologists is the lawlike relation between age and criminal conduct. According to all major methodologies for measuring crime (self-reports, official data, and victimization data), age-specific rates of offending in the general population peak in middle to late adolescence for most offenses, and drop sharply and permanently thereafter (Hirschi and Gottfredson, 1983; Wilson and Herrnstein, 1985; Farrington, 1986; Blumstein and Cohen, 1987; Wolfgang, Thornberry, and Figlio, 1987; Steffensmeier et al., 1989; Moffitt, 1993). Drug offenses are one of the few exceptions to this rule, reaching a peak at later – but still early – ages (Bachman et al., 1984; Kandel and Yamaguchi, 1987; Akers, 1992).