Antisocial behaviour across the life course: An examination of the effects of early onset desistence and early onset persistent antisocial behaviour in adulthood
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There is evidence to show that individuals who have persistent behaviour problems over time have the worst outcomes across a range of domains. However, the adult outcomes of those who have high levels of behavioural problems in childhood but desist by adolescence remain relatively under-investigated. This article examines different patterns of antisocial behaviour over the life course using the Australian Mater University Study of Pregnancy (MUSP), a prospective longitudinal study of mothers and their children up to age 21. Antisocial behaviour is measured using the Achenbach Child Behaviour Checklist at ages 5 and 14. Young adult outcomes (age 21) of health problems, educational attainment, employment, marriage, discomfort with relationships, and anxiety and depression are examined. Multinomial logistic regression analyses show that those individuals who no longer showed high levels of antisocial behaviour in adolescence continued to have problems across several outcomes. However, the worst outcomes were observed for those individuals with persistent behaviour problems in childhood and adolescence. Overall, the evidence supports the importance of programmes which aim to not only prevent the onset of early childhood antisocial behaviour, but to also draw attention to the need to address antisocial behaviour that emerges during adolescence. Empirical evidence suggests that there is a link between an individual engaging in antisocial behaviour as a child or adolescent and a range of negative outcomes in adulthood (Caspi & Moffitt, 1995; Huesmann & Moise, 1999; Moffitt, 2006; Piquero, Brame, & Moffitt, 2005; Smart et al., 2005). Childhood and adolescent antisocial behaviour has been found to predict a range of other outcomes, from unemployment, low income and low educational achievement, early marriage, and problems in intimate relationships (Bor, McGee, Hayatbakhsh, Dean, & Najman, 2010; Kessler, Davis, & Kendler, 1997; Robbins, 1978). Research findings also point to the connection between a range of childhood mental health problems and adult mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression (Caspi, Moffitt, Newman, & Silva, 1996; Kessler, Berglund, et al., 1997; Moffitt, 2006; Simonoff et al., 2004; Smart et al., 2005; Zoccolillo, Pickles, Quinton, & Rutter, 1992). There is, however, some doubt as to whether early childhood symptoms of depression and anxiety are prognostic of anxiety and depression in adulthood (Najman et al., 2008). Despite these research findings, there has been little research conducted to test Moffitt's (2006) argument that those who exhibit extreme antisocial behaviour in early childhood, but desist in adolescence, also experience adverse adult outcomes. Moreover, little is known about whether individuals who exhibit child-limited antisocial behaviour have less severe adult outcomes than those who persist with antisocial behaviour in childhood and adolescence (Moffitt, 2006).
Australian Journal of Psychology
Social and Community Psychology