LIFE-COURSE DESISTERS? TRAJECTORIES OF CRIME AMONG DELINQUENT BOYS FOLLOWED TO AGE 70*

Authors


  • *

    Earlier versions of this paper were presented to the American Sociological Association (Washington, D.C.), the Life History Research Society (Kauai, Hawaii), the Life-Course Symposium and the Population Research Center Colloquium at the University of Maryland, and the Demography Workshop at the University of Chicago. We thank participants in all of these venues, along with the anonymous reviewers of Criminology, for constructive criticisms. Elaine Eggleston provided superb research assistance, and the Russell Sage Foundation and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences provided partial funding support.

  • Robert J. Sampson joined the faculty of the Department of Sociology at Harvard University in 2003. Formerly he taught at the University of Chicago, where much of his work on community processes and dynamics was initiated. Current interests include comparative studies of urban crime, networks of community social organization, and the nexus of collective civic participation and public protest. Beginning in the mid-1980s, he and John Laub began developing a life-course conception of crime. Their two books from this long-term project are Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points Through Life (1993) and Shared Beginnings, Divergent Lives: Delinquent Bovs to Age 70 (2003).

  • John H. Laub is Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland, College Park, and current President of the American Society of Criminology. His areas of research include crime and deviance over the life course, juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice, and the history of criminology. He has published widely, including Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points Through Life, co-authored with Robert Sampson (Harvard University Press. 1993). With Robert Sampson, he has recently completed a book entitled. Shared Beginnings, Divergent Lives: Delinquent Bovs to Age 70. which will be published in the fall of 2003. also by Harvard University Press.

Abstract

Linking recently collected data to form what is arguably the longest longitudinal study of crime to date, this paper examines trajectories of offending over the life course of delinquent boys followed from ages 7 to 70. We assess whether there is a distinct offender group whose rates of crime remain stable with increasing age, and whether individual differences, childhood characteristics, and family background can foretell long-term trajectories of offending. On both counts, our results come back negative. Crime declines with age sooner or later for all offender groups, whether identified prospectively according to a multitude of childhood and adolescent risk factors, or retrospectively based on latent-class models of trajectories. We conclude that desistance processes are at work even among active offenders and predicted life-course persisters, and that childhood prognoses account poorly for long-term trajectories of offending.

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