Criminal Offending and Mortality over the Full Life-Course: A 70-Year Follow-up of the Cambridge–Somerville Youth Study

  • Steven N. Zane
  • Brandon C. WelshEmail author
  • Gregory M. Zimmerman
Original Paper



To investigate the relationship between criminal offending and mortality over the full life-course of treatment group participants in the Cambridge–Somerville Youth Study (CSYS).


The CSYS is a delinquency prevention experiment and prospective longitudinal survey of the development of offending. Begun in 1939, the study involves 506 at-risk boys, ages 5–13 years (mean birth year = 1928), from Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts. Following the analytic strategy of Joan McCord, participants are drawn from the study’s longitudinal arm (N = 253). Data include court convictions of criminal offenses collected during middle age (mean = 47) and death records collected during old age (up to age 89). Death records were collected for 216 participants or 85.4% of the sample.


Life-course persistent offenders experience earlier mortality compared to non-offenders (by about 7 years) and adolescent-limited offenders (by about 8 years). While life-course persistent offenders are not more likely to die early (< 40 years) compared to other trajectory groups, they are more likely to experience premature mortality from late middle age into old age. Life-course persistent offenders are also more likely to experience unnatural deaths, with alcoholism confounding the relationship.


That group differences in mortality risk did not emerge until age 55 (while offending is in decline) suggests that the relationship between offending and mortality is not direct and may be spurious. Knowledge about the relationship between criminal offending and mortality can be greatly improved by following participants into old age.


Criminal offending Mortality Life-course Offending trajectories Cambridge–Somerville Youth Study 



We wish to thank the journal editor and the anonymous reviewers for especially helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven N. Zane
    • 1
  • Brandon C. Welsh
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Gregory M. Zimmerman
    • 2
  1. 1.Florida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.School of Criminology and Criminal JusticeNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA
  3. 3.Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law EnforcementAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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