Many blame the "teenage brain" for high rates of teen crime, violence and driving incidents.
But an important factor has been ignored: teenagers as a group suffer much higher average poverty rates than do older adults.
A new study out in SAGE Open finds that teenagers are no more naturally crime-prone than any other group with high poverty rates.
Dr. Males examined more than 54,000 homicide deaths in California from 1991 to 2012. He found that when teenagers' poverty levels are as low as those typical of middle-aged adults, they also have low murder rates like older adults. Additionally, in the rare areas where middle-agers suffer high poverty rates typical of teenagers, middle-agers suffer high "teenage" murder rates.
Furthermore, before taking poverty into consideration, the peak age for homicide deaths is 19 years old, and then declines. However, when socio-economic status is considered, 19 remains the peak age only for high-poverty populations. Indeed, 83% of gun murders among teenagers occur in populations with poverty levels of 20% or higher.
"Only a few decades ago, leading authorities made the same claims that African Americans, Native Americans, and other 'inferior races' were biologically driven to violence, impulsiveness, crime, and other risks until those groups acquired the power to redirect attention to social conditions like poverty and discrimination. Hopefully these findings will provoke a similar change in discussion about adolescents."