Taking Stock of Developmental Trajectories of Criminal Activity over the Life Course

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Abstract

Worldwide, criminologists have long been interested in the longitudinal patterning of criminal activity. Recently, methodological and statistical advances have “caught up” with longitudinal data and have provided criminologists with a unique window within which to study, document, and understand developmental trajectories of criminal activity. One such technique, the trajectory procedure, allows researchers to study howcriminal activity changes over time in a group-based framework. This methodology is well suited for studying crime over the life course because there may be different groups of offenders, their offending trajectories may exhibit different shapes at different ages, and they may be differentially affected by distinct factors. This paper presents an overview of the trajectory methodology, outlines its strengths and weaknesses, and summarizes key conclusions of the well over 80 studies that have used this technique. It concludes by pointing to several future research directions.