In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Self-Report Crime Surveys

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Early Development of Self-Report Measures
  • The Epidemiology of Crime: Self Report and Official Records
  • Self-Report Surveys and the Etiology of Crime
  • Major Self-Report Offender and Victimization Surveys
  • Critiques of Self-Report Crime Surveys
  • Recent Innovations in Self-Report Crime Surveys

Criminology Self-Report Crime Surveys
Delbert Elliott
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0221


Historically, measures and surveys of crime were all counts of law enforcement activity—crimes reported to the police; police contacts and arrests of offenders; court referrals, convictions, sentencing; and incarceration. Published crime rates were all derived from the official records maintained by law enforcement agencies. Self-report crime measures were introduced into criminological research in the mid-1940s but did not become established as an alternative measure of criminal activity until 1967 when a self-report crime survey was first used in a national epidemiological study of juvenile crime in the United States. Both self-report offender and victim crime measures were developed in direct response to conceptual and empirical limitations of official record measures of crime. Conceptually, official records of crime are measures of law enforcement reactions to crimes that come to their attention. In contrast, self-report measures were developed as a more direct measure of criminal behavior, a measure that better captures the conceptual domain of crime. It is based on victims and offenders’ own reports of their involvement in criminal acts, whether known to law enforcement agencies or not. Self-report measures are thus an alternative measure of crime that is conceptually a more direct measure of criminal behavior, captures crimes known and unknown to law enforcement, and avoids the selective reporting and processing biases potentially inherent in the more limited official record measures of responses to crime. It has become the mainstay in criminological research, particularly in etiological studies.

General Overviews

The earliest general review of self-report crime surveys is found in Hardt and Bodine 1965, a conference report summarizing what was known about the administration procedures, methods, and results from over a dozen large-scale self-report surveys. A more definitive overview, Hindelang, et al. 1981, includes both an overview of a larger number of self-report studies combined with findings from a new study designed specifically to answer questions about administration procedures and the validity and reliability of self-report surveys. It is widely regarded as the early seminal work on self-report delinquency and is credited with establishing the general validity and reliability of this type of crime measure. A more recent general review is found in Krohn, et al. 2010, summarizing what is known about the self-report survey method of measuring crime and its impact on criminological theory and epidemiology.

  • Hardt, Robert H., and George E. Bodine. 1965. Development of self-report instrument in delinquency research. New York: Syracuse Univ., Youth Development Center.

    The report of a conference on self-report delinquency surveys summarizing what was known about different administration methods, different response sets of criminal acts and delinquency scales, and findings regarding the social correlates of crime based on this type of measure.

  • Hindelang, Michael J., Travis Hirschi, and Joseph G. Weis. 1981. Measuring delinquency. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

    A comprehensive review of self-report delinquency measures used in prior research, their measurement characteristics with a focus on the social correlates of self-report offending, self-report victimization, and official measures of delinquency, addressing the discrepancies in findings based on these alternative measures reported in earlier research.

  • Krohn, Marvin D., Terrence P. Thornberry, Chris L. Gibson, and Julie M. Baldwin. 2010. The development and impact of self-report measures of crime and delinquency. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 26:509–525.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10940-010-9119-1

    This article discusses the body of research using self-report surveys, covering both the development and use of self-report measures, noting the strengths and weaknesses of this measure of crime. They identify some important advances in assessing the validity and reliability of self-report measures and discuss the impact of this body of research on both the knowledge base about the epidemiology of crime and theoretical explanations for crime.

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