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Life-Course Approach in Criminology Essay

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Updated: May 6th, 2022

Theory Description

Criminology theories offer different reasoning for committing crimes. According to McGee, Farrington, Homel, and Piquero (2015), life-course criminology is one of the most used theoretical approaches to crime analysis. This perspective views one’s criminal activities as a dynamic process influenced by various circumstances. According to this theory, people may start engaging in illegal activities because of their environment, influences, and living conditions.

Such aspects as one’s childhood experiences, for instance, can impact his or her decision in the future. This theory states that different life events can change one’s attitude and create specific behavior patterns that may lead to offending.

Life-course approach can differentiate some possible factors that affect one’s life choices. First of all, individual characteristics are a broad category of factors that can impact a person’s life (McGee et al., 2015). Second, one’s family can also affect his or her development of offending behaviors. Hurtful childhood memories, poor relationships between family members, verbal and physical abuse, and parental patterns of criminal career can make a person engage in illegal activities.

Third, socio-economic factors are also critical in shaping one’s personality. While they may not affect every person the same way, financial struggles, for example, can become a strong motivator for an individual to commit a crime. Other possible factors can include one’s relationships, neighborhood, and age. The life-course theory does not consider each aspect in isolation, instead focusing on the combination of multiple factors and their connections with each other. Moreover, this approach does not rely solely on various inherent characteristics. It is interested in the fluidity of one’s behavior and the process of change.

Supporting Article Analysis

The life-course branch of criminology is supported by many scholars as it chooses to employ a sophisticated approach to criminal behavior. For instance, Broidy et al. (2015) note that this theory can be considered the foundation of criminology as a whole because it offers a qualitative description of the behavioral patterns of offending. The article focuses on many personal traits of persons and also highlights the importance of such inherent characteristics as one’s gender and race.

The authors point out that while other factors are also crucial to the process of developing offending behavior, one’s ethnicity and gender can affect individuals’ life and, therefore, impact their life choices. In this case, these two characteristics are viewed as the basis of further life choices. The study by Broidy et al. (2015) analyzes a group of people who were born at the beginning of the 1980s. These individuals had contacts with the criminal justice system at some point in life.

The results of the study reveal a connection between one’s demographics and offending behavior. While the patterns are not universal, some links can be seen. Authors conclude that one’s ethnicity can affect his or her life. Thus, it also influences the risk of engaging in illegal activities. Cultural and societal pressures experienced by particular members of the society may drive them towards criminal behavior.

Furthermore, the authors show that these factors influence each other, gender often being a decisive element. This article states that the life-course theory can integrate many factors to create a framework for establishing and understanding people’s behavioral patterns. This argument is also supported in the study by Jennings, Rocque, Fox, Piquero, and Farrington (2016), who note that such taxonomy of offenders can help scholars identify patterns of improvement and deterioration of attitude. It also can help them create intervention and improvement activities that would allow people to recover from their hurtful behaviors.

Refuting Article Analysis

While many researchers support the usefulness of this theory and state that has a strong theoretic foundation, some of them argue that it does not address the aspect of one’s resilience to the environment. Pratt (2016) proposes a different strategy that builds on some elements of the life-course theory but uses a different approach to people’s behavior. The author argues that it includes factors that the life-course perspective fails to acknowledge.

For example, he presents multiple arguments that show that the life-course theory may prove useless in addressing one’s personality (Pratt, 2016). As a contrast, the scholar offers an approach which improves the original perspective with the concept of self-control. In this case, this notion is proposed by the author as a dynamic ability of a person who can change over time. It is also viewed as an essential part of the decision-making process. Therefore, the researcher attempts to prove the life-course theory is not valid on its own because it ignores a part of people’s personality.

The article outlines ten major propositions which prove that the self-control theory is more useful in the field of criminology than the life-course perspective. First few points state that self-control changes as an individual becomes older. While infants and children may have low self-control due to their level of development, young people are more susceptible to self-control depletion because of their temper. On the other hand, older people are capable of exercising self-regulation easier due to their life experiences.

This argument better explains the age-crime curve often used by criminologists (Pratt, 2016). The following propositions argue that negative experiences can be overcome with self-control. Individuals can also exercise self-regulation while trying to cope with life events that would significantly affect them otherwise. While the life-course theory may portray people as having no control over their decisions, this approach places more responsibility on individuals. This strategy also explains one’s choice to engage with society and the quality of interactions a person can have with his or her friends, family, and colleagues.

Therefore, this article refutes the universal use of the life-choice theory, presenting an alternative which accounts for people’s ability to make decisions. While the original approach centers on the environment of a person, it fails to consider his or her individuality and personality that may not be influenced by outside sources. A similar theme is also represented in the article by Fox, Jennings, and Farrington (2015), who argue that the life-course perspective should include psychopathy and behavioral control into the factors of influence. It can be hard to analyze which parts of one’s personality come from some internal traits and which are a result of nurture. Thus, this theory can exist alongside the original concept.


The life-course theory can be considered one of the fundamental approaches in criminology. It should be used to create crime control policies because it allows people to focus not only on the current motives and surroundings of a person but also on his or her deeper reasons for committing crimes. This approach goes beyond rationality and inherent nature of an individual and examines a complex structure that exists around every person. Although it may fail to recognize one’s ability for self-regulation, it still offers significant information about one’s behaviors. This theory is positive and focused on recovery, which also makes it highly valuable.


Broidy, L. M., Stewart, A. L., Thompson, C. M., Chrzanowski, A., Allard, T., & Dennison, S. M. (2015). Life course offending pathways across gender and race/ethnicity. Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology, 1(2), 118-149.

Fox, B. H., Jennings, W. G., & Farrington, D. P. (2015). Bringing psychopathy into developmental and life-course criminology theories and research. Journal of Criminal Justice, 43(4), 274-289.

Jennings, W. G., Rocque, M., Fox, B. H., Piquero, A. R., & Farrington, D. P. (2016). Can they recover? An assessment of adult adjustment problems among males in the abstainer, recovery, life-course persistent, and adolescence-limited pathways followed up to age 56 in the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development. Development and Psychopathology, 28(2), 537-549.

McGee, T. R., Farrington, D. P., Homel, R., & Piquero, A. R. (2015). Advancing knowledge about developmental and life-course criminology. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 48(3), 307-313.

Pratt, T. C. (2016). A self-control/life-course theory of criminal behavior. European Journal of Criminology, 13(1), 129-146.

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