In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Criminal Career Research

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Data Sources
  • Major Criminal Career Studies
  • Continuity in Criminal Careers
  • Criminal Career Trajectories
  • “Career Criminals” and Related Policies
  • Critiques of the Criminal Career Paradigm

Criminology Criminal Career Research
Lila Kazemian
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0059


Criminal career research is concerned with changes in offending patterns over time. In 1983, the National Academy of Sciences convened the Panel on Research on Criminal Careers, which led to an abundance of research dedicated to the study of criminal careers. The body of knowledge in this area of study has developed greatly over the course of the past two decades. Criminal career research has also generated some debate about key issues relevant to the study of offending behavior, namely the age-crime distribution, the relevance of longitudinal data, and the need to distinguish between several criminal career parameters.

General Overviews

To date, the most essential reading in criminal career research is Blumstein, et al. 1986, the two-volume report of the Panel on Research on Criminal Careers, which was created by the National Academy of Sciences in 1983. The report offers an extensive overview of criminal career research, a thorough explanation of various dimensions of the criminal career, and key recommendations for future research. For a more updated and recent source, Piquero, et al. 2003 presents a fairly comprehensive review of classic and contemporary criminal career studies. Thornberry and Krohn 2003 summarizes empirical findings from seven major longitudinal studies of crime and delinquency and identifies some important findings relating to the development of criminal careers. Weitekamp and Kerner 1994 offers a similar summary, with the added feature of a cross-national comparison. In an analysis of offending across the life-course for two samples of adjudicated and representative French Canadian males, Le Blanc and Fréchette 1989 presents key findings in relation to the major criminal career parameters. Blumstein, et al. 1988a and Blumstein, et al. 1988b also review some of the important findings in criminal career research and address some of the critiques aimed at this paradigm.

  • Blumstein, Alfred, Jacqueline Cohen, Jeffrey A. Roth, and Christy A. Visher, eds. 1986. Criminal careers and “career criminals.” 2 vols. Panel on Research on Career Criminals, Committee on Research on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

    Published by the National Academy of Sciences’ Panel on Research on Criminal Careers, these two volumes are essential readings in criminal career research. They include a comprehensive overview of the various dimensions of criminal careers. This source is appropriate for advanced graduate-level courses and is indispensable to any researcher interested in criminal career research.

  • Blumstein, Alfred, Jacqueline Cohen, and David P. Farrington. 1988a. Criminal career research: Its value for criminology. Criminology 26:1–36.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1988.tb00829.x

    The first of two articles in an issue of Criminology addressing the debate surrounding the criminal career paradigm. The authors address several issues relevant to criminal careers, including the importance of criminal career research for theory and policy and interpretations of the age-crime curve.

  • Blumstein, Alfred, Jacqueline Cohen, and David P. Farrington. 1988b. Longitudinal and criminal career research: Further clarifications. Criminology 26:57–74.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1988.tb00831.x

    The second article by Blumstein, et al. promoting the relevance of the criminal career paradigm. Issues discussed include the distinction between prevalence and incidence, patterns of escalation in criminal careers, and the use of longitudinal versus cross-sectional designs.

  • Le Blanc, Marc, and Marcel Fréchette. 1989. Male criminal activity from childhood through youth: Multilevel and developmental perspectives. New York: Springer-Verlag.

    The first major (English) text reporting results from the Montreal Two Samples Longitudinal Study. Although this source is somewhat outdated (a revised edition is in progress), key criminal career parameters are clearly explained. It is suitable for courses and researchers of all levels.

  • Piquero, Alex, David P. Farrington, and Alfred Blumstein. 2003. The criminal career paradigm. In Crime and justice: A review of research, vol. 30. Edited by Michael Tonry, 359–506. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    A review of criminal career research and a summary of key results. Includes an overview of some of the major studies on criminal careers. The chapter also discusses theoretical and policy relevance of criminal career research and offers recommendations for future research. Probably best suited for graduate-level courses.

  • Thornberry, Terence P., and Marvin D. Krohn, eds. 2003. Taking stock of delinquency: An overview of findings from contemporary longitudinal studies. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.

    Provides detailed descriptions of seven major ongoing longitudinal studies of offending. Chapters provide a description of each study and summarize key findings on various topics, including the development of offending and criminal career progression. Appropriate for researchers and students of all levels.

  • Weitekamp, Elmar G.M., and Hans-Jürgen Kerner. 1994. Cross-national longitudinal research on human development and criminal behavior. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

    Edited volume reviewing some of the major international longitudinal studies. Topics of interest are diverse and include several dimensions of criminal careers, such as age of onset, participation, frequency, and desistance.

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