Researchers studying crime statistics recently reported that apart from their age, culture may also play a role in shaping teen criminal behaviour. Spikes in crime rates for teens and young adults suggest that biology may primarily drive risk-taking and law breaking, but Penn State criminologists studying crime statistics in other countries indicate the above.
In a study of age and crime statistics from Taiwan, the researchers said that the Asian country’s youth crime pattern differs from the model seen in most Western countries. In the US, which tends to be more individualistic, for example, involvement in crime tends to peak in middle to late teens and then declines, said Darrell Steffensmeier, Liberal Arts Research Professor of Sociology and Criminology.
However, in Taiwan, which has more of a collectivist culture with less separation between generations, the crime rate does not dramatically peak as it does in the US. Participation in most crimes in Taiwan tends to reach a high point in the late 20s or early 30s, he added. “There is obviously a relationship between age and crime, but, historically, there have been two competing views,” said Steffensmeier.
It is generally believed that crime peaks in adolescence and then drops. (Shutterstock)
“The overwhelmingly acceptable view now is that the age-crime association is invariant. It’s universal — crime peaks in late adolescence and then drops — always and everywhere. But our findings suggest that, in some countries and cultures, the age-crime association is different, so it can’t be invariant,” he added.
Researchers released their findings in a recent issue of Criminology. They believe that if crime and age patterns are the same across cultures, that would suggest the age-crime relationship is a preprogrammed behaviour driven by biology and neurobiology. “If it’s universal, then it implies a biological basis,” said Steffensmeier.
According to the researchers, the differing patterns between Taiwan and U.S. crime rates suggest that cultural factors may also be important influences on criminal behaviour. “Whatever the biological, or neurobiological, factors that might contribute to criminal behaviour, culture and social structure apparently play as great, or greater role,” said Yunmei Lu, a doctoral candidate and graduate assistant in sociology and criminology.
In Taiwan, parents are more active in supervising their children, according to Lu. There is also a steep price for nonconforming Taiwan teens. “In Taiwan, teens are less likely to emphasise autonomy and fun and less likely to engage in behaviours different from, or opposed to, the adults,” said Lu. “Taiwan youth are more likely to view deviance as too risky to their future success in attending a good school or finding a good job.”
Hua Zhong, associate professor of sociology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, also worked with Steffensmeier and Lu on the study. “In Taiwan, parental and school supervision and involvement are extensive during adolescence but would be reduced after those children graduated from high school,” she said, adding, “Youth after 18 years of age would have more freedom for exposure to deviant or criminal messages.”
Zhong added the age and crime relationship in Taiwan could be linked with its philosophical roots in Confucianism. According to Zhong, the way societies eventually integrate youth into the world of adults also may play a large role in age-crime patterns. “Different societies may have differences in age-graded norms and integration of youth with adult society in ways that lead to differences in extent of adolescent crime and the age-crime association,” said Zhong.
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