THE DEVELOPMENT OF SELF-CONTROL: EXAMINING SELF-CONTROL THEORY'S STABILITY THESIS*

Authors

  • CARTER HAY,

    1. Assistant professor in the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University in Tallahassee. His research examines the causes of individual involvement in crime and delinquency, particularly those causes related to the family environment. His prior publications have appeared in such journals as Criminology, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Sociological Perspectives, and Theoretical Criminology.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • WALTER FORREST

    1. Doctoral candidate in the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the Florida State University. His current research and teaching interests focus on the development of criminal and delinquent behavior over the lifespan, criminological theory, and the links between ethnicity and crime.
    Search for more papers by this author

  • *

    An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the 2005 American Society of Criminology meetings in Toronto. The authors thank Ted Chiricos, Gary Kleck, Dan Mears, Mike Reisig, Eric Stewart, and Dan Nagin for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the paper and its analyses. All correspondence can be sent to Carter Hay by e-mail to chay@fsu.edu or by mail to Carter Hay, College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-1127.

Abstract

Research on self-control theory consistently supports its central prediction that low self-control significantly affects crime. The theory includes other predictions, however, that have received far less scrutiny. Among these is the argument that self-control is developed early in childhood and that individual differences emerging then persist over time. The purpose of this study is to provide a rigorous test of the stability thesis. First, we examine the extent of stability and change in self-control for a national sample of U.S. children age 7 to age 15. Second, we consider whether parenting continues to affect self-control during adolescence—a period after the point at which self-control differences should be fixed. The analysis revealed strong absolute and relative stability of self-control for more than 80 percent of the sample, and this stability emerged in large part as early as age 7. Contradicting the theory was a smaller portion of respondents (roughly 16 percent) who experienced substantial absolute and relative changes in self-control even after the age of 10. Moreover, parental socialization continued to affect self-control during adolescence, even after accounting for both prior self-control and exposure to parental socialization.

Ancillary