Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 17–29 | Cite as

The Consequences of Adolescent Delinquent Behavior for Adult Employment Outcomes

  • Angela CarterEmail author
Empirical Research


Delinquent behavior is common during adolescence and may disrupt trajectories of labor market attainment. Estimates of the relationship between delinquency and employment are threatened by selection bias, as youth who engage in delinquency often differ substantially from youth who do not. The current study examined the association between adolescents’ engagement in serious delinquency and four measures of occupational attainment in young adulthood: unemployment, personal earnings, employer-provided benefits, and occupational earnings. It examined the effect of delinquency independent of between-person differences in a variety of attributes and tested whether the hypothesized relationship was mediated by educational attainment, work experience, disconnectedness from both education and work, or criminal justice sanctioning. This study analyzed data from the first four waves of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), yielding an analytic sample of 14,800 (51% female, mean age 16 years). The Wave 1 Add Health survey was administered in 1994–1995, and Wave 4 of the survey was administered in 2007–2008. The analytic strategy, propensity score weighting, produced estimates that were less biased by differences between youth who had and who had not engaged in delinquent behavior. The study found that delinquency was significantly associated with the likelihood of being unemployed: compared to non-delinquents, delinquents were more likely to be unemployed even after controlling for temporally prior traits and resources, human capital, and criminal justice contact. The results provided more qualified support for hypothesized relationships between delinquency and job quality. The study concluded that offending may result in less fruitful job searches, but once a search results in employment, employed delinquents are not readily discernible from employed non-delinquents in the quality of their jobs. These conclusions contribute to literature on the labor market outcomes of people with histories of adolescent delinquency as they enter young adulthood.


Delinquency Adolescent work Employment Criminal justice 



This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. The author gratefully acknowledges feedback from Bill McCarthy on multiple drafts of this manuscript.


The author received funding from the UC Davis Sociology Department and UC Davis Institute for Social Sciences to support initial drafts of this manuscript.

Data Sharing Declaration

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Carolina Population Center but restrictions apply to the availability of these data, which were used under license for the current study, and so are not publicly available. However, data are available from the authors upon reasonable request and with permission of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Carolina Population Center.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval and Informed Consent

Add Health participants provided written informed consent for participation in all aspects of Add Health in accordance with the University of North Carolina School of Public Health Institutional Review Board guidelines that are based on the Code of Federal Regulations on the Protection of Human Subjects 45CFR46.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UC Berkeley School of Law, 355University of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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