Prevention Science [PREV] pp807-prev-462915 March 11, 2003 18:14 Style ﬁle version Nov. 04, 2000
Prevention Science, Vol. 4, No. 2, June 2003 (
Precursors, Consequences and Implications for Stability
and Change in Pre-adolescent Antisocial Behaviors
David J. Pevalin,
Terrance J. Wade,
and Augustine Brannigan
Although much of the evidence stresses the stability of dysfunctional behavior throughout the
life cycle, other evidence suggests that stability of antisocial behavior is a matter of degree.
In this work we determine the degree of stability of such behavior in preadolescence and
how this is inﬂuenced by age, gender, social structures, and family processes. Also, we explore
whether change in the level of antisocial behavior impacts upon other important developmen-
tal regimes such as health and educational performance. We use a large, 2 wave, nationally
representative sample of preadolescent children, and focus on children 4–9 years of age at
wave 1 (n = 6, 846). We employ a cluster analysis across a series of behavioral variables to
determine levels of antisocial behavior and then examine the stability of antisocial behavior
over time and identify the precursors and consequences associated with movement into and
out of these behavioral clusters. Antisocial behavior is more stable in boys and older children.
Structural factors—age of the mother, number of children in the household, and having a
single parent—along with family factors—hostile parenting and maternal depression—raise
the likelihood of increases in and lower the likelihood of decreases in antisocial behavior,
although there are notable differences by gender of the child and initial level of antisocial
behavior. Consequences of change in antisocial behavior include scholastic performance, high
levels of school mobility, school–parent contacts, and health perceptions. The implications of
these ﬁndings for prevention and intervention programs are discussed.
KEY WORDS: antisocial behavior; children predictors; consequences.
Children with high levels of antisocial behavior
place a heavy burden on their parents, school, and the
community leading some to suggest that it is one of
the greatest public health threats of our time (Werry,
1997). There is a wealth of empirical evidence indicat-
ing that children possessing these antisocial or disrup-
Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex,
Institute for Health Policy and Health Services Research, Univer-
sity of Cincinnati Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Cincinnati Medical
Center, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Department of Sociology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada.
Correspondence should be directed to David Pevalin, Senior
Research Ofﬁcer, Institute for Social and Economic Research,
University of Essex, Colchester, UK CO4 3SQ; e-mail:
tive characteristics at an early age are more likely to
engage in later risky health-related behaviors, adoles-
cent delinquency, and adult crime (e.g., Caspi, 2000;
Nagin et al., 1995; Robins, 1978; Robins & Price, 1991;
Tremblay et al., 1992; White et al., 1990) and comprise
a high proportion of the adult incarcerated popula-
tion (Arboleda-Florez, 1999). In addition, such indi-
viduals are prone to heightened injuries, educational
delays, and economic dependency over the life course
(Sampson & Laub, 1993). Currently, two central de-
bates on childhood antisocial behavior surround the
stability of these behaviors over time and predictive
factors associated with them.
Stability and Malleability
First, is antisocial behavior in children stable
or is it malleable over time as children age? Some
2003 Society for Prevention Research