Stressful Life Events and Delinquency Escalation in Early Adolescence


criminology, deviant behavior, general strain theory, life course, delinquency


A recent emphasis on criminology has been on trajectories, life transitions, and turning lints that affect the escalation, stabilization, or desistance of deviant behavior. The purpose of this article is to describe and examine one potential pathway of delinquency escalation one early and mid-adolescence. It draws upon Agnew's general strain theory and research on adolescent stress to describe a significant transitory stage of the life course. A key organizing principle underlying the proposed pathway is that although stressful life events are highly variable among adolescents, experiencing a persistent or increasing number over time can lead to an escalation of delinquency. Using four years of sequential data from the Family Health Study (651 adolescents aged 11-14 during year one), we estimate a hierarchical growth-curve model that emphasizes the effects of life events on delinquency. The model assumes that delinquency is distributed as an overdispersed Poisson random variable. The results indicate that experiencing a relatively high number of life events over time is related to a significant "growth" of delinquency but that his relationship is not affected by sex, family income, self-esteem, or mastery.

Original Publication Citation

Hoffmann, John P., and Felicia Gray Cerbone. 1999. “Stressful Life Events and Delinquency Escalation in Early Adolescence.” Criminology 37(2): 343-374.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL






Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor