Crime, Delinquency & Antisocial Behavior

Crime, Delinquency & Antisocial Behavior



From 1988 to 2014, the NLSY79 Child surveys asked children 10 and older (10 to 14 starting in 1994) to self report the extent to which they had participated in various illegal activities (i.e. vandalism, shoplifting, and assault) and other delinquent activities such as not following parental rules during the past year. In 2004, the minimum age for these questions was raised to 12 years as the prevalence of these behaviors was so low for 10 and 11 year olds.

The nine items in this Child Self-Administered Supplement series were drawn from a larger set of NLSY79 main Youth items that in turn had been adapted from other previously used self-report delinquency scales. Table 1 details the items in the CSAS antisocial/delinquent behavior series.

Table 1. Child antisocial and delinquent behaviors question names by survey year

In the last year, about how many times have you... 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000-2014
Stayed out later than your parent(s) said you should? CS884220 CS906611 CS926760 CS942515 CS960815 CS98040A CSAS040A
Hurt someone badly enough to need bandages or a doctor? CS884221 CS906613 CS926762 CS942517 CS960817 CS98040B CSAS040B
Lied to your parent(s) about something important? CS884222 CS906615 CS926764 CS942519 CS960819 CS98040C CSAS040C
Taken something from a store without paying for it? CS884223 CS906617 CS926766 CS942521 CS960821 CS98040D CSAS040D
Damaged school property on purpose? CS884224 CS906619 CS926768 CS942523 CS960823 CS98040E CSAS040E
Gotten drunk? CS884225 CS906621 CS926770 CS942525 CS960825 CS98040F CSAS040F
Had to bring your parent(s) to school because of something you did wrong? CS884226 CS906623 CS926811 CS942527 CS960827 CS98040G CSAS040G
Skipped a day of school without permission? CS884227 CS906625 CS926813 CS942529 CS960829 CS98040H CSAS040H
Stayed out at least one night without permission? CS884228 CS906627 CS926815 CS942531 CS960831 CS98040I CSAS040I
*NOTE: From 1988-2000, the Child Self-Administered Supplement (CSAS) was a paper booklet. Starting in 2002, the CSAS is CAPI self-report and fully incorporated into the Child Supplement.


Peer pressure. From 1992 to 2014, children age 10 to 14 were asked whether they feel pressure from friends to:

  • Try cigarettes
  • Work hard in school
  • Try marijuana/other drugs
  • Drink alcohol
  • Skip school
  • Commit crime/engage in violent behaviors

These items are assigned to the CHILD SELF-ADMINISTERED SUPPLEMENT Area of Interest.

Note that, beginning in 2002, these same peer pressure questions are asked of Young Adults who are under age 19.

Documentation for these self-report items on antisocial and delinquent behavior can be found in NLS Investigator by searching the CHILD SELF-ADMINISTERED area of interest in the Child database. [Information on crime, delinquency, and arrest records for the NLSY79 mothers is available as part of a special self-report supplement in the 1980 NLSY79 main Youth interview.]

Behavior Problems. In addition to the child-reported items described above, mothers provided information on their children's behavior problems, starting at the age of four years, in the Behavior Problems Index (BPI).

Survey Instruments Questions on crime, delinquency, and antisocial behavior are found in the Child Self-Administered Supplement. The Behavior Problems Index is administered as part of the Mother Supplement.


Young Adult

Young Adult respondents have been asked a variety of questions about contact with the justice system, including any arrests and convictions, as well as delinquent behavior not necessarily resulting in contact with the law. 

Delinquency. From 1994 to 1998, the Young Adult Self-Report Booklet included a 17-item series about whether or not the respondent had engaged in various delinquent behaviors in the last year, from mild behaviors such as skipping school to more serious behaviors such as dealing in stolen goods or assaulting someone. In 2000, the frequencies and correlations on these items across the three earlier years were used to winnow down this series to four items. Respondents are asked whether or not, in the last year, they have:

  • Skipped a full day of work or school without a real excuse
  • Gotten into a physical fight at school or work
  • Taken something worth $50 or more
  • Seriously threatened or hit someone

In 2000, all Young Adults answered the above four items, but beginning in 2002, these items have been asked only of respondents aged 18 or older.

Since 2002, Young Adults aged 17 and under have answered the nine-item delinquency series that has been used in the Child Self-Administered Supplement since 1988. This series were drawn from a larger set of NLSY79 main Youth items that in turn were adapted from previously used self-report delinquency scales. Respondents are asked how many times in the last year they have:

  • Stayed out later than their parents said they could
  • Hurt someone badly enough to need a doctor
  • Lied to their parents about something important
  • Taken something from a store without paying
  • Damaged school property intentionally
  • Gotten drunk
  • Had to bring parents to school about something wrong
  • Skipped school without permission
  • Stayed out at least one night without permission

Running Away. Young Adults in all survey rounds have been asked how many times they have run away from home and how old they were the first time they ran away. In 1994 through 1998, these questions were in the Self-Report Booklet and asked of all respondents. Since these questions were incorporated into the CAPI questionnaire as part of the 2000 redesign, only Young Adults aged 17 and under who have not previously reported having run away are asked these questions.

Peer pressure. Since 2002, young adults aged 18 and younger have been asked six peer pressure questions that were asked of all 10 to 14 year olds from 1992 to 2014 in the Child Self-Administered Supplement. These young adults are asked whether they ever feel pressure from their friends to:

  • try cigarettes?
  • work hard in school?
  • try marijuana or other drugs?
  • drink beer, wine or liquor?
  • skip school?
  • commit a crime or do something violent?

Behavior Problems. From 1986 through 2016, NLSY79 mothers provided information on their children's behavior problems, starting at the age of four years through age 14. This information was then used to construct the overall Behavior Problems Index (BPI) and its six sub-scales. Researchers can combine the mother reported BPI data with the child's self-reports of their delinquent behaviors in the Child Self-Administered Supplement, plus their self-reports as Young Adults, to look at delinquency from childhood well into adulthood.

Related variables from Young Adult survey years include:

  • While Young Adult respondents are not asked explicitly about any school discipline, they do provide information about the main reason for leaving school, as well as the main reason for gaps in secondary school attendance, with one of the answer categories for both being suspension/expulsion.
  • A  "type of residence" variable is created for each survey year (RESTYPEyyyy) and identifies any Young Adult respondents who resided in jail at each interview date.
  • Since 2004, the YASAMPyyyy variable (found in the Child Background area of interest), which indicates whether or not a child was eligible to be interviewed, has included a category for respondents who were eligible but not interviewed due to incarceration.
  • In all survey rounds, Young Adults have been asked about their alcohol and drug use; they also answered a limited number of such questions when they were children.

Comparison to Other NLS Cohorts: Information on crime, delinquency, and arrest records was collected from the NLSY79 in a special self-report supplement during the 1980 interview. This supplement detailed respondents' participation in and income from criminal activities and their contacts with the criminal justice system. Beginning in 1988 two sets of questions were asked of NLSY79 children dealing with (1) the extent of each child's self-reported participation during the past year in various illegal activities such as vandalism, shoplifting, and assault and (2) the extent of use and age of first use of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and drugs. 

The NLSY97 survey asks about participation in and the intensity of various criminal activities in the previous year (round 1). In subsequent rounds respondents were questioned about the number of times they participated in criminal activity since the date of last interview. NLSY97 data collected each year include charges, court decisions, and sentencing including dates of incarceration since the last interview. 

The 1968 survey of schools attended by Young Men and Young Women respondents included two questions on whether school records indicated that the respondent had been committed to or was on probation from a correctional institution. Also as part of the 1968 school survey, school records were examined for an indication that the respondent had ever been expelled or suspended from school. For more precise details about the content of each survey, consult the appropriate cohort's User's Guide using the tabs above for more information.

Survey Instruments Questions on crime, delinquency, and antisocial behavior are found in the Young Adult Instrument, Young Adult Self-Report Section.
Area of Interest YA Self Report