Patterns of Crime in Early Parenthood

Open Access
VanEseltine, Matthew
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
April 25, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Eric Silver, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Eric Silver, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • D Wayne Osgood, Committee Member
  • Alan M Sica, Committee Member
  • David Eggebeen, Committee Member
  • Add Health
  • crime
  • criminological theory
  • life course
  • parenthood
In recent years, life-course criminology has grown and explored a range of social role transitions of early adulthood, but parenthood remains an over-looked area of research. While some qualitative work has emphasized the potentially transformative nature of the transition to parenthood, quantitative estimates of parenthood’s effects on criminal involvement have varied considerably. I use data from multiple waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) to assess parenthood effects with multivariate, multi-level models. This dissertation analyzes the influence of parenthood on crime over time (as youngest child’s age) and across context (as neighborhood disadvantage). First, I address a set of hypotheses derived from major criminological theories. I analyze the full sample to arrive at estimates of the effect of being a parent at the time of the transition to parenthood, as well as estimates of how that effect might change over time. The empirical pattern of crime as a child is born and raised has the potential to support or disconfirm theoretical mechanisms that might explain parenthood. Second, I address an empirical hypothesis recently raised by Kreager and colleagues (2010) as a reconciliation of disparate findings in the life-course literature. In keeping with some urban ethnography, they hypothesize that the crime-inhibiting parenthood effect may only exist for women in poor urban areas. They did not, however, test this inference directly. Using Add Health, I am able to start with a full sample and test for differences in parenthood effects among subpopulations. With regard to the theoretical hypotheses, my findings show that parenthood has a short-term negative influence on crime in the full sample. This pattern is consistent with a routine activities explanation, as argued by Yule and Griffiths (2009) in research on family roles and victimization. Changes in identity and self-concept, as discussed in the theory of cognitive transformation (Giordano, Cernkovich, and Rudolph 2002) and the age-graded theory of informal social control (Laub and Sampson 2003), may also be plausible explanations. The finding of a fading effect of parenthood is difficult to reconcile with the hypothesized mechanism of internal control. Accordingly, the social bonding theory developed by Hirschi (1969) is especially threatened by these results. The empirical hypothesis states that the parenthood effect may in fact be a motherhood effect limited to poor urban areas. I test for differences between contexts: the full sample, an urban sample, a disadvantaged urban sample, and gender within the disadvantaged urban areas. My results partially replicate and confirm the findings of Kreager and colleagues (2010). I do find significant reductions in crime among mothers in high-risk urban areas. Their hypothesis that a parenthood effect is found exclusively among this population, however, is not supported by my findings. I do not find significant variation between motherhood and fatherhood in their associations with crime in any analyses. The fading effect of parenthood from the main results, upon further inspection, appears to be concentrated in non-urban areas. Within urban areas, the drop in crime associated with parenthood may be more permanent for residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods.