Life Course Criminology

VI. Conclusion

On the basis of a review of the evidence, and with attention to the specific DLC theories covered in this research paper, it appears that there are many more questions than answers from this growing area of research and theorizing. This final section highlights several important research needs and anticipates several future directions for research on DLC criminology.

For instance, although DLC theories tend to express assumptions that have borrowed from research evidence across an array of disciplines, such as biology, public health, and the social sciences in general, there have not been many attempts to test these theories across the disciplines and/or involving cross-disciplinary collaborations among researchers in prior empirical tests. Second, recognizing that this is a relatively new area of criminological research, there have not been many attempts to date to incorporate multilevel models into tests of DLC theories. Studies such as these are likely to be highly beneficial to DLC research, because a number of these theories discuss risk and protective factors that are multilevel in nature (e.g., the importance of the school environment and residing in a disadvantaged neighborhood). Future research should attempt to collect and/or make use of macrolevel risk and protective factors when available and model these effects both independently and simultaneously alongside the individual-level risk and protective factors when empirically assessing DLC theories.

Another underdeveloped area of DLC research is an exploration of how many offender groups there may be. Although certain DLC theories suggest two offender groups (Moffitt, 1993; Patterson & Yoerger, 1999) and others discuss multiple pathways (Loeber et al., 1998, 1999), results from more than 80 studies using trajectory analysis have suggested between three to five offender groups (for a review, see Piquero, 2008). Some of these groups are consistent with notable DLC theories (e.g., adolescent-limited offenders and life-course-persistent offenders), whereas other groups that are not consistent with some DLC typologies, such as low-level chronic offenders and late-onset offenders (who do not begin their offending until adulthood) have also emerged from this research. Future DLC studies should continue their efforts at replicating prior trajectory-analysis-based research in attempt to shed more light on the consistencies regarding the number of offender groups as well as incorporating risk and protective factors in their research to determine what covariates are significant for distinguishing trajectory group membership.

Last, DLC theories and related empirical research in the future should devote specific attention to race and gender. For the most part, the current DLC theories are relatively quiet on how race and gender may matter, or at the very least there have been only a handful of studies testing the generalizability of these theories across race and gender. Furthermore, a lot of the existing research in this area (similar to criminological research in general) relies either on self-report or official data. Although the limitations of both sources are well-known to criminologists, future DLC research should recognize this issue and attempt, when possible, to use some sort of a triangulation of methods to provide a more definitive conclusion on the progression of delinquency and criminal involvement over the life course. Thus, it is indeed an exciting time to be involved in DLC criminology, and as the subfield moves forward, those interested in this area of research may benefit from the suggestions given in this research paper as they become involved or continue their involvement with DLC criminological theory development and modification and/or empirical testing. This research paper closes by providing the reader with Farrington’s (2003, pp. 229–230) excellent list of the key empirical and theoretical issues that need to be addressed by any DLC theory:

  1. Why do people start offending?
  2. How are onset sequences explained?
  3. Why is there continuity in offending from adolescence to adulthood?
  4. Why do people stop offending?
  5. Why does prevalence peak in the teenage years?
  6. Why does an early onset predict a long criminal career?
  7. Why is there versatility in offending and antisocial behavior?
  8. Why does co-offending decrease from adolescence to adulthood?
  9. Why are there between-individual differences in offending?
  10. What are the key risk factors for onset and desistance, and how can they be explained?
  11. Why are there long-term (over life) and short-term (over time and place) within-individual differences in offending?
  12. What are the main motives and reasons for offending?
  13. What are the effects of life events on offending?

Key theoretical issues:

  1. What is the key construct underlying offending?
  2. What factors encourage offending?
  3. What factors inhibit offending?
  4. Is there a learning process?
  5. Is there a decision-making process?
  6. What is the structure of the theory?
  7. What are operational definitions of theoretical constructs?
  8. What does the theory explain?
  9. What does the theory not explain?
  10. What findings might challenge the theory? (Can the theory be tested?)
  11. Crucial tests: How much does the theory make different predictions from another theory?

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