Crime and the Life Course

David J. Smith

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


Crime is mostly committed by young people, hence any theory of criminal offending should explain how it fits with the course of individual development from infancy to old age. The evolution of offending over the life course is a story of both continuity and change. This chapter reviews evidence on stability and change in offending over the life course, and how each can be explained. Because criminal behaviour is often dysfunctional, explaining why people persist in it poses a challenge. Possible explanations span constitutional factors, personality, cognitive processes, social interactions, victimization-offending loops, labelling and stigmatization, and constraints imposed by social structure. Equally the dramatic change in offending over the life course needs to be explained, although classic criminological theories have not attempted to explain it. Possible realms of explanation are changing social responses to misbehaviour in people of different ages, changing social bonds and peer influence, changing social roles, activities, and associated opportunities for offending, and changing cultural definitions. The evidence that is relevant to these explanations is reviewed in the light of a critical assessment of problems of method.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Criminology
EditorsMike Maguire, Rod Morgan, Robert Reiner
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages54
ISBN (Print)0199256098, 9780199256099
Publication statusPublished - 2002

Publication series

NameOxford Handbooks


  • life course, longitudinal, development, crime, antisocial behaviour, age, persistance, desistance


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