Live Fast, Die Young: Anticipated Early Death and Adolescent Violence and Gang Involvement   [open pdf - 7MB]

"Strategies employed by criminal justice agencies to reduce offending often focus on deterrence, with policies relying on the threat of punishment to discourage individuals from crime. However, such strategies will fail if individuals do not fear these consequences, or when potential rewards of offending outweigh the risks. According to life history theory, adolescents with a dangerous or unpredictable childhood environment discount the future and engage in risky behaviors because they have little to lose. Many adolescents embody this 'live fast, die young' mentality, particularly those already at risk of delinquency due to other factors. The scientific literature refers to this mindset as fatalism, future discounting, or anticipated early death (AED). Despite the indication that AED is a crucial correlate of delinquent activity, only recently have criminologists begun to directly examine the relationship. To address this gap in the literature, this dissertation analyzes two longitudinal datasets. One dataset, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), offers a nationally representative sample, while the Rochester Youth Development Study (RYDS) provides a sample of at-risk youth in Rochester, New York. Structural equation modeling quantifies adolescent AED in each dataset. [...] I study the effects of the latent AED measures on adolescent violence and gang activity, finding that higher levels of AED correspond to a greater likelihood of violence and gang activity, with the relationships often mediated by low self-control. [...] Findings lend support to life history theory's assumption that AED predicts risk-taking behavior; I find little evidence that violence or gang activity cause AED."

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