The structure and stability of families have long stood as key predictors of juvenile delinquency. Boys from “broken homes” experience a higher prevalence of juvenile delinquency than those from intact families. Unresolved is whether the consequences of frequently disrupted family contexts endure to shape criminal trajectories into adulthood. Long-term influence may also be indirect. Life-course criminologists credit family formation during the transition to adulthood, and particularly marriage, for redirecting men’s criminal trajectories, but children who experience repeated changes in family structure are more likely to experience precarious starts to their own eventual family formation. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and its two child-centered supplemental studies (N = 1,127), we find that the experience of repeated family structure change is associated with higher rates of arrest and incarceration during early adulthood for White men but not for Black men. However, divergent patterns of own family formation among men in early adulthood do not mediate this association.

Stacey J. Bosick, Paula Fomby

American Behavioral Scientist, July 30, 2018