Universiteit Leiden

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On the road to adulthood

On Tuesday 26th September Jessica Hill will defend her thesis ‘On the road to adulthood. Delinquency and desistance in Dutch emerging adults’. The defence will begin at 13.45 hrs, in the Academy Building of Leiden University, Rapenburg 73. The supervisor is Professor Arjan Blokland.

Jessica Hill

For recent generations of young adults getting married, having children, and settling down into a steady career, in their twenties, has become increasingly rare. The early adult years are now characterised by a diverse range of lifestyles, with young people experimenting and exploring different options before they transition into more stable adult roles. This period if referred to as emerging adulthood. Why might a change in the nature of the early adult years be of interest to a criminologist? We know that whilst the majority of adolescents engage in delinquency, the majority also desist from this behaviour as they enter adulthood. Previous explanations for this behaviour change point to entering adult roles and the social control and adult social status offered by these turning points. In her thesis, Jessica Hill examines delinquent behaviour during emerging adulthood, asking what the turning points for the millennial generation are.

Using longitudinal data from a contemporary Dutch sample of young adults, she firstly examines whether the concept of emerging adulthood is relevant to Dutch young adults. Emerging adulthood as a concept was born in the USA and it describes the early adult years as being distinct from the adolescence that precedes them and the young adulthood that follows them. Jessica finds that that, broadly speaking, for Dutch emerging adults this is a time of possibilities, experimentation, exploration, instability, and of feeling in-between, as has been found in other countries. Having established that emerging adulthood is a relevant phenomenon in the Netherlands, she examines the risk factors for delinquent behaviour during emerging adulthood, finding that parental support protects against delinquency and excessive alcohol use increases the risk of delinquency. These findings point to the continuity of risk factors that are also relevant during adolescence. However, other important risk factors for adolescent delinquency, such as having delinquent friends and living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood, were not found to be risk factors for delinquency during emerging adulthood.

In the remaining four chapters of the thesis, Jessica tests the relevance of popular life-course theories of crime. These theories argue that transitioning into adult social roles instigates and supports desistance from delinquency. Evidence from this thesis shows that transitions into adult roles are still related to desistance in emerging adulthood. However, the adult role transitions relevant for the millennial generation are moving out of the parental home, completing school and starting work, and being in a relationship rather than the more traditional roles of getting marriage or becoming a parent. Changes in personality during this period also go hand in hand with desistance and adult role transitions, with young people becoming increasingly conscientious with age.

Another feature of emerging adulthood is instability. The popular media like to refer to ‘boomerang’ kids who return to live with their parents after a period of independence. Jessica finds evidence that the instability of boomeranging back into dependent roles, whilst not as prevalent as expected, is related to delinquent behaviour. In her final empirical chapter, she examines financial independence, an indicator of adulthood that today’s young people name as important. She finds that achieving financial independence from parents is related to desistance, pointing to the importance of examining ‘new’ adult roles for the millennial generation.

This thesis demonstrates that for Dutch young people, on the way towards the stability, independence, and responsibilities of adulthood, but not quite there yet, desisting from delinquency is not self-evident. Certain features of this time of life increase the risk of continued involvement in delinquent behaviour, such as engaging in excessive alcohol use, boomeranging back into dependent roles, or relying on parents for financial support. In contrast, indications that adulthood has been achieved, such as leaving home, having a steady partner, and progressing through education and into employment, are linked to another indicator of adulthood: desistance.

Prof.dr.mr. A.A.J. Blokland about Jessica Hill

"Jessica has done extremely well. She now has a research position at the Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) and is competing for a Rubicon grant."

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