Background: Crime, particularly among juvenile females, has increased in recent years. Little is known, however, about the development and precursors in childhood of female delinquent behaviour. This is primarily due to a lack of consensus on how to define and assess female antisocial behaviour, and a lack of studies using sufficiently large samples.
Method: A community sample of 2451 girls between the ages of five and eight years were recruited into a longitudinal study following the enumeration of 103,238 households in the city of Pittsburgh. Data on disruptive and antisocial behaviours were collected from parents, teachers and children during the first wave of the study.
Results: Prevalence rates of disruptive disorders varied by choice of informants and measurement thresholds. The prevalence of most disruptive behaviours was similar across the four age cohorts. Where there were differences, parents of younger girls tended to report fewer problematic behaviours compared with parents of older girls. Teachers reported more disruptive behaviours than parents and, by their reports, older girls were more likely to show oppositional/defiant behaviour and relational aggression than younger girls. Girls scoring highly on several domains relative to their peers were over-represented in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Conclusions: A range of disruptive disorders are present among a subgroup of females at an early age, particularly among girls in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Longitudinal follow-up is required to examine the developmental trajectories and predictive utility of these behaviours. The implications for clinical interventions are discussed.