Equifinality and Desistance: Which Pathways to Desistance Are the Most Traveled in Young Adulthood?

Gary Sweeten, Natasha Khade

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Scopus citations


    Purpose: The desistance literature identifies many competing explanations for desistance. Equifinality, Cicchetti and Rogosch (Dev Psychopathol 8:597–600, 1996), refers to the idea that a diversity of pathways can lead to the same end result. Embracing this perspective, we shift our focus from identifying effects of causes to identifying the causes of an effect, Sampson et al. (Criminol Public Policy 12:587–616, 2013): desistance. That is, among individuals who have desisted from crime, what proportion have experienced each of the proposed explanations of desistance? Are these proportions any different from non-desisters or other offending groups? In this way, we provide evidence for the relative importance of competing explanations for desistance. Methods: Using Pathways to Desistance, we estimate group-based trajectory models of offending. We use this model to identify desisters and persisters. We then compare these two groups on theoretically motivated constructs. Results: We find that psychosocial development, associations with deviant peers, and the social rewards of crime change more rapidly among desisters than persisters. Many desistance processes are present among persisting groups, but at a slower rate of change compared to desisters. Conclusions: Embracing the equifinality of desistance would open up new methodological approaches and new ways of organizing the literature, and would have important implications for theoretical development and policy applications.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)369-394
    Number of pages26
    JournalJournal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


    • Desistance
    • Equifinality
    • Persistence

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Law
    • Life-span and Life-course Studies
    • Applied Psychology


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