Self-reported delinquency is a count of delinquency based on the method of asking young people if they have committed an illegal act in a specified time period.
The self-reported delinquency technique is one of three major ways of measuring
involvement in delinquent and criminal behavior. The basic approach of the self-report
method is to ask individuals if they have engaged in delinquent or criminal behavior, and
if so, how often they have done so. In this chapter, we review the origins of the
self-report method in the 1950s, the growth and refinement of this measurement technique
since then, and its role in criminological research, especially longitudinal research on
the etiology of delinquent and criminal behavior.
The Self-Reported Delinquency measure (Elliot, Huizinga, Heton, 1985) was used in
the Pittsburgh Youth Study. Self-report of delinquency instruments are well known and
frequently used. Their advantages and disadvantages have been discussed in the literature
(Huizinga and Elliott, 1986; Klien, 1988). In this measure participants describe their
delinquent activities, tapping the areas of property damage, theft, assault, and substance
use. For each type of delinquent act, the participant is asked whether he/she ever
committed it, how many times in the past year, if others were involved, and if he/she was
under the influence of alcohol or drugs while committing it.
The analyst should be cautioned that the scales are extremely skewed towards the lower part of the scale, because of the low frequency of the occurrence. This is true for the method of scoring as calculated here, but is even more exaggerated if the second question for each item, frequency of events is used. The frequency of most delinquent behaviors are highly skewed with higher variances for offenders. If frequency of events scores are used, the analyst should be advised that there are outliers present and each item should be inspected and evaluated for them.