Crime & the Life Course

The consequences of lead exposure for later crime are theoretically compelling, but direct evidence from representative, longitudinal samples is sparse. By capitalizing on an original follow‐up of more than 200 infants from the birth cohort of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods matched to their blood lead levels from around age 3 years, we provide several tests. Through the use of four waves of longitudinal data that include measures of individual development, family background, and structural inequalities in how lead becomes embodied, we assess the hypothesized link between early childhood lead poisoning and both parent‐reported delinquent behavior and official arrest in late adolescence. We also test for mediating developmental processes of impulsivity and anxiety or depression. The results from multiple analytic strategies that make different assumptions reveal a plausibly causal effect of childhood lead exposure on adolescent delinquent behavior but no direct link to arrests. The results underscore lead exposure as a trigger for poisoned development in the early life course and call for greater integration of the environment into theories of individual differences in criminal behavior.
Winter, Alix S., and Robert J. Sampson. 2017. “From Lead Exposure in Early Childhood to Adolescent Health: A Chicago Birth Cohort.” American Journal of Public Health 107 (9): 1496-1501. Publisher's Version Abstract

Objectives. To assess the relationships between childhood lead exposure and 3 domains of later adolescent health: mental, physical, and behavioral.

Methods. We followed a random sample of birth cohort members from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, recruited in 1995 to 1997, to age 17 years and matched to childhood blood test results from the Department of Public Health. We used ordinary least squares regression, coarsened exact matching, and instrumental variables to assess the relationship between average blood lead levels in childhood and impulsivity, anxiety or depression, and body mass index in adolescence. All models adjusted for relevant individual, household, and neighborhood characteristics.

Results. After adjustment, a 1 microgram per deciliter increase in average childhood blood lead level significantly predicts 0.06 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.01, 0.12) and 0.09 (95% CI = 0.03, 0.16) SD increases and a 0.37 (95% CI = 0.11, 0.64) point increase in adolescent impulsivity, anxiety or depression, and body mass index, respectively, following ordinary least squares regression. Results following matching and instrumental variable strategies are very similar.

Conclusions. Childhood lead exposure undermines adolescent well-being, with implications for the persistence of racial and class inequalities, considering structural patterns of initial exposure. 

Sampson, Robert J., and John H. Laub. 2016. “Turning Points and the Future of Life-Course Criminology: Reflections on the 1986 Criminal Careers Report.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 53: 321-335. Publisher's Version Abstract
In 1986, the National Research Council published a two-volume report, Criminal Careers andCareer Criminals.” This work generated fierce debates central to the field of criminology and pitted some of the biggest names in the business against one another. In this paper, we consider the last 30 years and ask whether the report was an intellectual turning point. Our answer is that while the report did change the methodological direction of criminology, it lacked a theoretical explanation of the dynamics of crime. After the report was published, several efforts attempted to fill this breach. We reflect on the role that the Criminal Careers report played in our own work, from the time of the report’s release to the development and assessment of what is now known as the age-graded theory of informal social control and the broader field of “life-course criminology.”
Kirk, David S., and Robert J. Sampson. 2013. “Juvenile Arrest and Collateral Educational Damage in the Transition to Adulthood.” Sociology of Education 86: 36–62. Publisher's Version Abstract
Official sanctioning of students by the criminal justice system is a long-hypothesized source of educational disadvantage, but its explanatory status remains unresolved. Few studies of the educational consequences of a criminal record account for alternative explanations such as low self-control, lack of parental supervision, deviant peers, and neighborhood disadvantage. Moreover, virtually no research on the effect of a criminal record has examined the ‘‘black box’’ of mediating mechanisms or the consequence of arrest for postsecondary educational attainment. Analyzing longitudinal data with multiple and independent assessments of theoretically relevant domains, the authors estimate the direct effect of arrest on later high school dropout and college enrollment for adolescents with otherwise equivalent neighborhood, school, family, peer, and individual characteristics as well as similar frequency of criminal offending. The authors present evidence that arrest has a substantively large and robust impact on dropping out of high school among Chicago public school students. They also find a significant gap in four-year college enrollment between arrested and otherwise similar youth without a criminal record. The authors also assess intervening mechanisms hypothesized to explain the process by which arrest disrupts the schooling process and, in turn, produces collateral educational damage. The results imply that institutional responses and disruptions in students’ educational trajectories, rather than social-psychological factors, are responsible for the arrest–education link.
Sampson, Robert J, John H Laub, and Christopher Wimer. 2006. “Does Marriage Reduce Crime? A Counterfactual Approach to Within-Individual Causal Effects.” Criminology 44: 465-508.
Sampson, Robert J, and John H Laub. 2005. “A Life-Course View of the Development of Crime.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 602: 12-45.
Sampson, Robert J, and John H Laub. 2003. “Life-Course Desisters? Trajectories of Crime Among Delinquent Boys Followed to Age 70.” Criminology 41: 301-339.
Sampson, Robert J, and John H Laub. 1997. “A Life-Course Theory of Cumulative Disadvantage and the Stability of Delinquency.” Developmental Theories of Crime and Delinquency, edited by Terence P Thornberry. New Brunswick, N.J. Transaction Publishers.
and Laub, John H., Robert Sampson J. 1993. “Turning Points in the Life Course: Why Change Matters to the Study of Crime.” Criminology 31: 301-325.