Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 349–372 | Cite as

“From Your First Cigarette to Your Last Dyin’ Day”: The Patterning of Gang Membership in the Life-Course

  • David C. PyroozEmail author
Original Paper



Motivated by the reorientation of gang membership into a life-course framework and concerns about distinct populations of juvenile and adult gang members, this study draws from the criminal career paradigm to examine the contours of gang membership and their variability in the life-course.


Based on nine annual waves of national panel data from the NLSY97, this study uses growth curve and group-based trajectory modeling to examine the dynamic and cumulative prevalence of gang membership, variability in the pathways into and out of gangs, and the correlates of these pathways from ages 10 to 23.


The cumulative prevalence of gang membership was 8 %, while the dynamic age-graded prevalence of gang membership peaked at 3 % at age 15. Six distinct trajectories accounted for variability in the patterning of gang membership, including an adult onset trajectory. Gang membership in adulthood was an even mix of adolescence carryover and adult initiation. The typical gang career lasts 2 years or less, although much longer for an appreciable subset of respondents. Gender and racial/ethnic disproportionalities in gang membership increase in magnitude over the life-course.


Gang membership is strongly age-graded. The results of this study support a developmental research agenda to unpack the theoretical and empirical causes and consequences of gang membership across stages of the life-course.


Gang membership Developmental and life-course criminology NLSY97 



This research was supported by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Institute of Justice (2011-JP-FX-0101) and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2011-JV-FX-0004). I am grateful for their support. The content and opinions expressed in this document are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of these agencies. I would like to thank Scott Decker, Rick Moule, Gary Sweeten, and Vince Webb for their comments on this manuscript, and well as the editors of JQC and the anonymous reviewers.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminal Justice and CriminologySam Houston State UniversityHuntsvilleUSA

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