When I Grow Up: Exploring the Link Between Future Expectations and Criminal Trajectories [2020]

There are several noteworthy cognitive and identity-based theories of desistance. Yet, there is little understanding about the role of one’s expectations of future events, which are tied to one’s sense of self, as they ultimately inform actions regarding offending. In this study, we test the extent to which optimistic and fatalistic expectations are related to desistance.

We rely on negative binomial regression analyses and group-based trajectory modeling of data drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 to determine the relationship between future event expectations and criminal engagement. We assess continued criminal involvement through self-reported arrests and offending variety.

We find that future expectations regarding negative events (arrest, victimization, and drunkenness) are associated with future self-reported arrest while future positive expectations (parenthood, education, and employment) are unrelated to future offending behavior. Higher expectations of being arrested and getting drunk in the following year were associated with a greater likelihood of being classified as a persister relative to a nonoffender. We also find that Blacks are more likely to be classified as persisters. Yet, future expectations in late adolescence appear to be poor predictors of whether an individual will desist from offending over the long term.

Our results suggest that future fatalistic expectations of a ‘feared self’ are generally associated with short-term offending. Future studies should explore the degree to which expectations and the development of a future self may vary by race and gender and alternative interpretations of the NLSY97 expectation questions.

Annika Y. Anderson, Douglas B. Weiss & Sharon S. Oselin
Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology, Volume 6, 2020