The Effectiveness of Marriage as an “Intervention” in the Life Course: Evidence from the Netherlands

  • Bianca E. BersaniEmail author
  • Marieke van Schellen


Twenty years ago, Sampson and Laub (1993:Crime in the making: pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press) formally presented their age-graded theory of informal social control highlighting the importance of social bonds across the entire life course in understanding pathways into and out of crime. Since then, a large body of research has appeared testing key facets of their theory. One particularly important and well-studied tenet is the notion that key life events hold the potential to redirect lives and foster desistance from crime. In this chapter, we focus on the role of marriage in the life course and review the empirical body of work examining the generalizability of the marriage effect in understanding patterns of persistence and desistance from crime the Netherlands. For a number of substantive and analytic reasons, the Netherlands provides an interesting context to test the generalizability of the marriage effect cross-culturally including its progressive social and political climate. Despite notable differences when compared to the USA, overall results demonstrate that the “good marriage effect” holds in the Netherlands. Men and women, across sociohistorical context and crime type, are less likely to offend when married compared to when not married. The effect is especially pronounced for men who marry a noncriminal spouse though interestingly marriage, irrespective of spousal criminality, is beneficial for female offenders. In short, marriage is an important factor when thinking about pathways out of crime. We conclude this chapter by identifying how the marriage effect can inform criminal justice policy and practice as well as offering up what we see as fruitful avenues for future research.


Criminal Behavior Criminal History Crime Type Informal Social Control Marital Dissolution 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank John H. Laub and Paul Nieuwbeerta for their helpful comments on this paper. Any errors or omissions are our own.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Massachusetts BostonBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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