On the measurement of low self-control in Add Health and NLSY79


Low self-control, measurement, crime, Add Health, NLSY


Limited attention has been devoted to the dimensionality of the low self-control scales commonly constructed in two nationally representative datasets routinely used to test self-control theory (SCT) – Add Health and NLSY79. We assess the measurement properties of the low self-control scales by comparing a series of exploratory and confirmatory models that are appropriate for the categorical nature of the observed items, including unidimensional, correlated factors, second-order factor, and bifactor models. Additionally, based on these results we explore the predictive validity of the respective scales on adolescents’ delinquent behavior. The results indicate that the low self-control scales in these data have acceptable levels of internal consistency but do not represent unidimensional latent factors. Rather, scales are best represented by a second-order factor structure. When measured this way, our Add Health scale is associated with delinquency in a cross-sectional context and our NLSY79 scale predicts delinquency longitudinally. This study reveals that low self-control is best conceptualized as a multidimensional construct within these data. The results of this study provide guidance to researchers measuring low self-control in either dataset (or other data sources) and inform the larger SCT measurement literature.

Original Publication Citation

Wolfe, Scott E., and John P. Hoffmann. 2016. “On the Measurement of Low Self-Control in Add Health and NLSY79.” Psychology, Crime & Law 22(7): 619-650.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

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Psychology, Crime & Law




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor