In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Developmental and Life-Course Criminology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Data Sources
  • Major Studies on Developmental and Life-Course Criminology
  • Developmental and Life-Course Theories of Offending
  • Developmental Processes of Offending and Problem Behavior
  • Early Prediction and Prevention
  • Intergenerational Transmission

Criminology Developmental and Life-Course Criminology
Lila Kazemian
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0011


Developmental and life-course criminology are both concerned with the study of changes in offending and problem behaviors over time. Although these two theoretical approaches share some common features, they also differ in the concepts that they deem to be of focal concern. The life-course perspective gives increased importance to social structure, whereas the developmental approach generally tends to focus more on psychological factors to explain developmental processes. In many instances, these two approaches have been employed in the context of similar studies but with slightly different focuses. Many of the issues addressed in criminal career research are also relevant to developmental and life-course criminology.

General Overviews

Elder’s various works are often regarded as classic readings within the life-course paradigm. Elder 1995 offers an overview of the life-course perspective. Giele and Elder 1998 discusses some of the methodological issues associated with life-course research. Sampson and Laub 1993 and Laub and Sampson 2003 analyze data from the Gluecks’ prominent study and use the life-course approach as a framework in their analyses of offending patterns across various periods of life. While Piquero and Mazerolle 2000 compiles some of the most influential publications in developmental and life-course criminology (including Terrie Moffitt’s influential developmental typology), Le Blanc and Loeber 1998 presents a summary of key findings from developmental research. Savage 2009 includes contributions from several prominent international researchers and discusses some of the main frameworks used to explain the development of persistent offending. Farrington 2005 offers an excellent overview of some of the major theories in life-course and developmental criminology.

  • Elder, Glen H., Jr. 1995. The life course paradigm: Social change and individual development. In Examining lives in context: Perspectives on the ecology of human development. Edited by Phyllis Moen, and Glen H. Elder, Jr., and Kurt Lüscher, 101–139. APA Science Volumes. Washington, DC: APA Press.

    DOI: 10.1037/10176-000

    Overview of the life-course paradigm and its central principles. Explanation of the various social and individual forces that explain changes in behavior over time. The link between human agency and life-course transitions is discussed. Elder’s works are classic in the life-course model. Appropriate for graduate-level courses and researchers of all levels.

  • Farrington, David P., ed. 2005. Integrated developmental and life-course theories of offending. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

    Summarizes some of the major developmental and life-course theories of offending behavior. Each chapter offers a thorough description of the structure of various theories, as well as the developmental processes that these theories aim to explain.

  • Giele, Janet Z., and Glen H. Jr. Elder, eds. 1998. Methods of life course research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Addresses a wide range of topics relevant to life-course research, including theoretical, analytic, and measurement issues. Various chapters are relevant to longitudinal data analysis more generally.

  • Laub, John H., and Robert J. Sampson. 2003. Shared beginnings, divergent lives: Delinquent boys to age 70. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Second major reanalysis of the Gluecks’ data, including a longer follow-up of the study participants, a further examination of life-course events, and a focus on developmental issues such as early prediction of offending patterns.

  • Le Blanc, Marc, and Rolf Loeber. 1998. Developmental criminology updated. In Crime and justice: A review of research. Vol. 23. Edited by Michael Tonry, 115–198. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Extensive overview of the most influential studies in developmental criminology. Topics addressed include key concepts in developmental criminology, a description of developmental processes, and parallels to some of the dimensions identified in criminal career research. This chapter offers a great introduction to students and researchers new to this area of study.

  • Piquero, Alex, and Paul Mazerolle. 2000. Life-course criminology: Contemporary and classic readings. Toronto: Wadsworth.

    Collection of some of the most influential publications in developmental and life-course criminology. Topics addresses include the age-crime distribution, life-course and developmental theories of offending, persistence and desistance from crime, and effective interventions for crime prevention.

  • Sampson, Robert J., and John H. Laub. 1993. Crime in the making: Pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    First major reanalysis of the Gluecks’ data, with a particular emphasis on the life-course framework. The age-graded theory of informal social control is presented. Appropriate for specialized graduate courses on life-course criminology as well as more general theory courses, as well as for new and experienced researchers in the area.

  • Savage, Joanne, ed. 2009. The development of persistent criminality. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Provides an overview of some of the major theoretical frameworks used to explain the development of persistent offending. The role of the family, social class, life events, and biosocial factors in the development of persistent offending are addressed. Methodological and conceptual issues are also discussed.

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