Workplace crime: could childhood factors predict it?


Workplace crime is a widespread problem affecting all industries. Estimates suggest that a typical organisation loses 5% of its annual revenue through occupational fraud, and workplace deviance has forced some businesses into bankruptcy. Can childhood factors predict the likelihood of workplace crime occurring? Can they shed light on the gender differences in occupational deviance? Piquero and Moffitt examine how two competing theoretical perspectives relate to workplace deviance, and consider the link between childhood factors and adult job characteristics. They find that none of these factors matter for predicting female deviance in the workplace, but that conduct-problem trajectories do account for male workplace deviance.

The study focuses on two broad types of workplace crime. Property deviance is the stealing of tangible products or assets; examples include stealing money from work, using work equipment without permission, and falsifying receipts. Production deviance covers time or productivity rule-breaking; examples include taking extra breaks, leaving work early, and purposely working slowly.

Piquero and Moffitt analyse property and production deviance from two competing theoretical perspectives: conduct-problem trajectories and low self-control. Both models anticipate that early-life predictors will continue to affect individuals throughout their life course.

The study uses data from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, a longitudinal investigation of a complete cohort of consecutive births (1 April 1972 to 31 March 1973).

For the conduct-problem trajectories model, Piquero and Moffitt use data on behaviours such as bullying, damaging property and stealing for individuals in the cohort at ages 7, 9, 11 and 13. For the contrasting theory, on low self-control, they use observations of behaviours such as inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive aggression for individuals in the cohort between the ages of 3 and 11.

Respondents were asked at age 32 to say whether, in the past year, they had engaged in 16 different types of workplace deviance, 9 types of production deviance and 7 of property deviance. Using these results, Piquero and Moffitt examine how the individual characteristics from childhood – conduct-problem trajectories and low self-control – predict production and property deviance in adulthood. They test whether job characteristics such as responsibility, physical work, unpredictability and autonomy account for the effect of both sets of individual characteristics on both types of workplace deviance. Finally, they examine both sets of individual characteristics to assess whether they predict each of the job characteristics described at age 32.

Compared to females, males self-report significantly more production and property deviance, exhibit more childhood low self-control, and report higher incomes at age 32. With respect to job characteristics, males self-reported significantly more responsibility, physical work, time pressure, unpredictability and job strain at work compared to females.

Piquero and Moffitt conclude that childhood factors are important when predicting both types of workplace deviance in adulthood, but only for males. For example, boys with specific conduct problems are likely, as adults, to engage in deviant acts in the workplace; but this does not appear to be the same for girls. Of the two competing theories, the conduct-disorder trajectories model was found to be more useful in predicting workplace deviance.

Future research could include additional childhood, adolescence and adulthood contextual variables, and use a more diverse sample of respondents. Organisational factors could also be examined.

As Nicole Piquero summarises, “These results show that some individual factors, such as high rate conduct disorder problems, early in life are predictive of misbehaving in the workplace. Practically speaking, employers may want to consider obtaining information about persons behavioral history, to the extent possible, and consider their adoption in the decision-making process about which persons to hire and/or which persons to give additional screening to”.



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