Joint Effects of Age, Period, and Cohort on Conduct Problems Among American Adolescents From 1991 Through 2015


Although arrest rates among juveniles have substantially decreased since the 1990s, US national trends in conduct problems are unknown. Population variation in conduct problems would imply changes in the social environment, which would include emergent or receding risk factors. In the present study, we separated age, period, and cohort effects on conduct problems using nationally representative surveys of 375,879 US students conducted annually (1991-2015). The summed score of 7 items measuring the frequency of conduct problems was the outcome. Conduct problems have decreased during the past 25 years among boys; the total amount of the decrease was approximately 0.4 standard deviations (P $<$ 0.01), and by item prevalence, the total amount of the decrease was 8%-11%. Declines are best explained by period effects beginning approximately in 2008, and a declining cohort effect beginning among those born after 1992, which suggests not only declines in population levels, but more rapid declines among younger cohorts of boys. Trends were also consistent with age-period-cohort effects on evenings spent out, which suggest a possible mechanism. Conduct problems among girls were lower than boys and did not demonstrate trends across time. These changes may reflect the changing nature of adolescence toward less unsupervised interaction.

American Journal of Epidemiology