Self-control and Criminal Opportunity

Cross-Sectional Test of the General Theory of Crime

Published in: Criminal Justice and Behavior, v. 25, no. 1, Mar. 1998, p. 81-98

Posted on on January 01, 1998

by Douglas L. Longshore, Susan Turner

Read More

Access further information on this document at

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

In this study, the authors tested two hypotheses drawn from the general theory of crime. The first hypothesis is that low self-control is a major individual-level cause of crime. The second, that the effect of self-control is contingent on criminal opportunity. The measure of self-control used was a 23-item self-report index. To measure criminal opportunity, two proxy variables were used: gender and crime-involved friends. Crime measures included number of criminal acts of force and number of criminal acts of fraud reported in a 6-month recall period by a sample of 522 criminal offenders. Self-control was lower among offenders reporting more crimes of force and fraud, but the variance explained by self-control was low in each case. The relationship between self-control and fraud crimes was contingent on criminal opportunity, but the relationship between self-control and force crimes was not. Implications of these findings for the general theory of crime are reviewed.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.