Massoglia, Michael and Christopher Uggen. 2002. “Life Course Theories.” Pages 1008-12 in Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.




Over the last thirty years, criminologists have increasingly adopted a "life course" perspective.  The term life course, suggests a focus on how crime changes over the various stages or periods of a person's life.  While correlated with age, a life course perspective emphasizes stages, such as adolescence, parenthood or retirement, rather than age specifically.  In addition to understanding these stages, life course researchers are also interested in how larger societal forces shape individual lives.  For example, Elder (1974) and Clausen (1985) have extensively studied the impact of the great depression on the school, work, and family situations of those who lived through it. Regardless of the specific empirical question, life course researchers approach the study of human behavior in terms of stability, change, and the timing of change.  In doing so, we look to interactions between larger social or historical patterns and individual events in understanding various temporal and developmental sequences.  This chapter outlines how life course researchers have attempted to understand criminal behavior. We first briefly highlight central life course concepts and then present a basic picture of rates of criminal behavior over the life course. Next, we discuss major life course theories before concluding by raising some questions that may guide future life course research.