The Dynamics of Female Delinquency, 1976-1980



    1. Behavioral Research Institute
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    • Sazanne S. Ageton is a senior research associate at the Behavioral Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, where she is involved in research on juvenile delinquency and sexual assault. Recent publications include an article with Delbert S. Elliott in the February 1980 issue of American Sociological Review entitled, “Reconciling Race and Class Differences in Self-Reported and Official Estimates of Delinquency,” and a book published in the fall of 1983 entitled Sexual Assault among Adolescents.

  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to express my gratitude to Del Elliott and Dave Huizinga for their assistance in the preparation of this article. This study was supported primarily by a grant (MH 27552) from the Center for the Studies of Crime and Delinquency, NIMH, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Supplemental funding for the second and third years of the study was received from the National Institute for Juvenile Justice und Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice (78-JN-AX-0003). Points of view or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the Department of Health and Human Senices or the Department of Justice. Address all communications to Suzanne S. Ageton, Senior Research Associate, Behavioral Research Institute, 2305 Canyon Blvd., Boulder, CO 80302.


This article employs self-report delinquency data from a national probability sample of adolescents to describe the epidemiology and dynamics of female delinquency from 1976 to 1980. Both age and cohort effects are examined, utilizing incidence and prevalence data categorized by race, social class, and place of residence. Within years there are few consistent, significant differences in the incidence of delinquency by any of the demographic variables analyzed. Significant race and social class differentials exist, however, in the prevalence of assaultive crimes among the panel, with substantially higher proportions of black and lower-class females reporting involvement in violent behavior for three of the five years. Strong cohort effects are observed for all delinquency measures. In general, the incidence and prevalence of serious female delinquency appear to decline with age, and the 15-17-year-old females in 1980 are significantly less involved in delinquency than their same-age peers were in 1976.