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Population density and youth antisocial behavior


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

Benjamin B. Lahey, Department of Health Studies (MC 2007), University of Chicago, 5841 South Maryland Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637, USA; Email:


Theoretical models concerning how neighborhood contexts adversely influence juvenile antisocial behavior frequently focus on urban neighborhoods; however, previous studies comparing urban and rural areas on the prevalence of youth antisocial behavior have yielded mixed results. The current study uses longitudinal data on the offspring of a nationally representative sample of mothers (= 4,886) in the US. There was no relation between density and mother-reported child conduct problems across ages 4–13 years, but youth living in areas of greater population density exhibited more youth self-reported delinquency across 10–17 years. Families often moved to counties with greater or lesser population density, but longitudinal analyses treating population density as a time-varying covariate did not support the hypothesis that living in densely populated counties influenced youth delinquency. Rather, the association between population density and delinquency appears to be due to unmeasured selection variables that differ between families who live in more or less densely populated counties.