Sociology Index


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.

Particular attention is paid to assessing the reliability and validity of self-reported measures of delinquency. We also discuss specialized data collection methods, such as random response techniques and audio assisted computer-based interviewing, that have the potential to increase the accuracy of responses. Overall, we conclude that the psychometric quality of the self-report method has increased considerably since its inception in the 1950s.

Although there is much room for continued improvement, self-report data appear acceptably valid and reliable for most research purposes. - The Self-Report Method for Measuring Delinquency and Crime by Terence P. Thornberry and Marvin D. Krohn.

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 following delinquency scales were created by taking the mean across items. The items capture whether or not the child committed certain delinquent behaviors:

  • offense-general category scales (status offenses and interpersonal violence)
  • summary scales (index offenses and general delinquency)

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.