Marriage and Offending among a Cohort of Disadvantaged African Americans

Elaine Eggleston Doherty, Margaret E. Ensminger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Objectives: Drawing on Sampson and Laub's age-graded theory of informal social control, this research tests the generalizability of the marriage effect on desistance from crime. Specifically, do urban African American men and women living in the United States benefit from marriage similarly to Whites? Methods: The authors use hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to analyze the relationship between marriage and official arrest counts among African American male and female first graders from Woodlawn, an inner-city community in Chicago, first assessed in 1966 and followed up at three time points (ages 16, 32, and 42). Results: The authors find strong evidence of a marriage effect for the males across crime type, with a reduction in offending between 21 percent and 36 percent when in a state of marriage. The findings for females were less consistent across crime type, a 10 percent reduction in the odds of a property arrest and a 9 percent increase in the odds of a drug arrest when in a state of marriage. Conclusions: Their findings provide evidence in favor of the generality of Sampson and Laub's theory, at least for males. However, the authors were not able to evaluate the mechanisms of desistance and identify this as an area of future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)104-131
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • criminological theory
  • desistance from crime
  • developmental theories
  • life-course theory
  • race/ethnicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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