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Low Self-Control As a Source of Crime. A Meta-Study


  • Christoph Engel

    () (Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Bonn)


Self-control theory is one of the best studied criminological paradigms. Since Gottfredson and Hirschi published their General Theory in 1990 the theory has been tested on more than a million subjects. This meta-study systematizes the evidence, reporting 717 results from 102 different publications that cover 966,364 original data points. The paper develops a methodology that makes it possible to standardize findings although the original papers have used widely varying statistical procedures, and have generated findings of very different precision. Overall, the theory is overwhelmingly supported, but the effect is relatively small, and is sensitive to adding a host of moderating variables.

Suggested Citation

  • Christoph Engel, 2012. "Low Self-Control As a Source of Crime. A Meta-Study," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2012_04, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
  • Handle: RePEc:mpg:wpaper:2012_04

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Roger M. Harbord & Julian P.T. Higgins, 2008. "Meta-regression in Stata," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 8(4), pages 493-519, December.
    2. Baker, Joseph O., 2010. "The expression of low self-control as problematic drinking in adolescents: An integrated control perspective," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 237-244, May.
    3. Kissner, Jason & Pyrooz, David C., 2009. "Self-control, differential association, and gang membership: A theoretical and empirical extension of the literature," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 37(5), pages 478-487, September.
    4. Langton, Lynn, 2006. "Low self-control and parole failure: An assessment of risk from a theoretical perspective," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 34(5), pages 469-478.
    5. Gibson, Chris & Wright, John, 2001. "Low self-control and coworker delinquency: A research note," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 29(6), pages 483-492.
    6. Miller, Holly Ventura & Jennings, Wesley G. & Alvarez-Rivera, Lorna L. & Lanza-Kaduce, Lonn, 2009. "Self-control, attachment, and deviance among Hispanic adolescents," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 77-84, January.
    7. T. D. Stanley, 2001. "Wheat from Chaff: Meta-analysis as Quantitative Literature Review," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(3), pages 131-150, Summer.
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    Cited by:

    1. Tim Friehe & Hannah Schildberg-Hörisch, 2014. "Crime and Self-Control Revisited: Disentangling the Effect of Self-Control on Risk and Social Preferences," CESifo Working Paper Series 4747, CESifo Group Munich.

    More about this item


    meta-study; self-control; general theory of crime;

    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • C13 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Estimation: General

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