Developmental and Life Course Theories

Developmental and Life Course Theories




Developmental and Life-Course Theories

Question 1

Over the years, criminology theories exhibited a considerable predisposition towards the social environment as a key factor in influencing crime and delinquency. However, the recent developments in the respective theories have resulted in changes in policy as an outcome of their inclination towards the impact of development on participation in crime. The most recent conjecture aimed at explaining the causation of delinquent behavior constitute the developmental and life course theory, which is based on early findings that asserted a relationship between adolescent behavior and adult delinquency among offenders (Lily, Cullen, & Ball, 2014). Developmental and life-course conjectures are concerned with the progression or development of antisocial and aberrant mannerisms, factors of risk at disparate ages, as well as the implications of life incidents on the path of development (Lily, Cullen, & Ball, 2014). Contrary to the paradigms of thought regarding crime and delinquency, developmental and life course premises are particularly focused on gaining an understanding of personal changes within aberrant behavior throughout a person’s lifespan, specifically the manner in which life events and risk factors collaborate in order to affect the ascent (onset), persistence, and desistance of crime (Cullen, Agnew, & Wilcox, 2014). Accordingly, the concept of developmental and life course theory is based on the focus of criminologists the relations between the onset of delinquency and teenage years. The grounds for this inclination in the criminological assessment were due to evidence, which showed that the respective life course generates significant levels of criminal behavior (Cullen, Agnew, & Wilcox, 2014). With respect to this and the predisposition towards the progression of antisocial and aberrant behavior, risk factors within a range of ages, and the implications of life incidents or events, the theories in question are considerably focused on assessing personal changes in offending throughout the course of life (Lily, Cullen, & Ball, 2014).

Developmental and life-course theories are different from the conventional Chicago School theories. As mentioned, these conjectures are focused on understanding the development of antisocial and offending mannerisms, risk aspects at different years, and the implications of life events (Zembroski, 2011). Additionally, the study of crime and delinquency onsets via the respective theories was largely based on the observation of empirical trends regarding participation in criminal behaviors among adolescents or persons in their teenage years (Lily, Cullen, & Ball, 2014). From these trends, individuals such as Caspi and Moffitt asserted that a major percentage of aberrant offenders constituted teenagers (Lily, Cullen, & Ball, 2014). Scholars such as Terrie E. Moffitt perceived anti-social behavior as a major factor for participation in aberrant behaviors among adolescents and adults (Moffitt, 2014). In fact, Moffitt argued for the existence of two factions of anti-social behaviors in society, which comprised the adolescence-restricted offenders and the life course-relentless offenders (Cullen, Agnew, & Wilcox, 2014). Interestingly, for each group, the aspect of antisocial behavior was a fixed component in determining the causation of delinquency among them (Cullen, Agnew, & Wilcox, 2014). Additionally, Gottfredson and Hirschi contended that factors such as self-control affected a person’s susceptibility towards errant conduct and social failure from the stage of childhood onwards, which is contrary to the traditional Chicago School theories, which are rather predisposed towards the notion of the social environment as responsible for the occurrence of offending and anti-social behavior among individuals (Lily, Cullen, & Ball, 2014). On the other end, the Chicago school theories largely utilized the city as the main subject in their respective studies. For researchers, human nature was best observed within the context of this complex social environment (Zembroski, 2011). The notion regarding the presence of man in his or her natural environment introduced the first premise that ecological representations and biological metaphors comprised appropriate framing devices for discourses on urban social interactions (Zembroski, 2011). From the respective premise, the Chicago School, via theorists such as Park and Burgess, asserted that the reasons responsible for crime were significantly entrenched within a single location of the American community – the slums (Zembroski, 2011). In addition to this, they contended that individuals became criminals by learning nonstandard cultural values and mores.

Most of the studies conducted with respect to developmental and life course theories were longitudinal and empirical. Aside from this, the research was focused on assessing the predicting aspects of offending as well as the pathways or channels of events that guided individuals towards and away from criminal engagements as asserted by Sampson and Laub (Cullen, Agnew, & Wilcox, 2014). The introduction of such notions in respect to the premise in question clearly imposes significant implications, especially in policy. In fact, with inclinations towards factors that enforce continuity and change in respect to participation in crime, developmental and life course conjectures have introduced new knowledge towards understanding the dynamic nature of crime itself. For instance, with respect to the notion of human agency, theorists, Laub and Sampson revealed the significance of comprehending the reasons for desistance aside from understanding factors that facilitated in onset and persistence in crime (Cullen, Agnew, & Wilcox, 2014). From this, theorists such as Giordano assessed the conditions that would make it possible for a respective offender to actually consider and leave his or her ‘career’ eventually leading to his or her transformation in society (Cullen, Agnew, & Wilcox, 2014). Such information affects policies by introducing the notion of crime dynamics in the development of regulations or approaches that utilize contemporary approaches aimed at enabling desistance. Apart from this, developmental and life course theories offer other policy implications for reduction of crime since the stable disposition of behaviors provides an opportunity that enables the identification of individuals that are more likely to engage in deviant behavior (Zembroski, 2011). In addition, empirical research asserts that consistency or continuity is significantly predictable thus enabling the control of disruptive behaviors among high-risk sets (Zembroski, 2011).

Question 2

The case of Billie Austin Bryant is a rather unique illustration considering it does not necessarily abide by the presumptions of developmental and life course theories. Prior to his arrest for engagement in an act of robbery with assault, Bryant displayed the characteristics of a functioning and non-deviant member of society. Foremost, he was married. Additionally, the respective defendant had not engaged in any form of crime. In respect to this, Bryant was a first-time offender. Based on these characteristics, it was evident that Bryant did not possess unusual traits concerning his past as well as his present prior to participation in the respective crimes. However, the interesting aspect regarding the respective defendant involved his historical participation in a successful escape from prison due to his first offense. As such, it would be rational to assert that Bryant’s reversion to crime after escaping from prison was attributed to certain factors. Foremost, it is evident that the threats imposed on the social bonds he possessed accentuated his persistence in crime. Based on the theories of Laub and Sampson, social bonds such as marriage are influential enough to enable desistance (Cullen, Agnew, & Wilcox, 2014). Bryant had already desisted from engaging in any criminal activity due to his marriage, which provided a comfortable space for him away from law enforcement. However, after the respective bond was threatened, his space was ruined hence forcing him to persist in crime by killing two police officers who came to his wife’s residence. Secondly, circumstances are responsible for shaping and influencing the actions that people commit due to the limited alternatives, they provide (Cullen, Agnew, & Wilcox, 2014). In respect to this, the circumstances that encompassed Bryant at the time, especially his status as a fugitive and the subsequent follow-up by the police, forced him to engage in crime.



Cullen, F. T., Agnew, R., & Wilcox, P. (2014). Developmental theories: Crime and the life course. In F. T. Cullen, R. Agnew, & P. Wilcox (Eds.), Criminological theory: Past to present (pp. 511-524). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Lily, J. R., Cullen, F. T., & Ball, R. A. (2014). Criminological theory: Context and consequences. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.

Moffitt, T. E. (2014). Pathways in the life course to crime. In F. T. Cullen, R. Agnew, & P. Wilcox (Eds.), Criminological theory: Past to present – Essential Readings (pp. 525-544). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Zembroski, D. (2011). Sociological theories of crime and delinquency. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 21, 240-254.


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