How Work Affects Crime—And Crime Affects Work—Over The Life Course

  • Sarah Lageson
  • Christopher UggenEmail author


The meaning and social significance of both work and crime change dramatically over the life course. This chapter considers the connection between employment and criminal behavior at different life-course stages. We briefly discuss theories suggesting a general link between work and crime, and then take up the question of how work affects crime in adolescence, emerging adulthood, and older ages. We next report on classic and contemporary research showing how crime and punishment affect employment and earnings. The chapter concludes by taking stock of what has been learned and suggesting lines of further inquiry into when and how work matters for crime and delinquency.


Employment Crime Punishment Life course 


  1. Allan, E., & Steffensmeier, D. (1989). Youth, underemployment, and property crime: differential effects of job availability and job quality on juvenile and young adult arrest rates. American Sociological Review, 54, 107–123.Google Scholar
  2. Apel, R., Bushway, S., Paternoster, R., Brame, R., & Sweeten, G. (2008). Using state child labor laws to identify the causal effect of youth employment on deviant behavior and academic achievement. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 24, 337–362.Google Scholar
  3. Apel, R., Paternoster, R., Bushway, S., & Brame, R. (2006). A Job isn’t just a job: the differential impact of formal versus informal work on adolescent problem behavior. Crime and Delinquency, 52, 333–369.Google Scholar
  4. Apel, R., & Sweeten, G. (2010). The impact of incarceration on employment during the transition to adulthood. Social Problems, 57(3), 448–479.Google Scholar
  5. Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55, 469–480.Google Scholar
  6. Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. (1993). How part-time work intensity relates to drug use, problem behavior, time use, and satisfaction among high school seniors: Are these consequences or merely correlates? Developmental Psychology, 29(2), 220–235.Google Scholar
  7. Bachman, J. G., Staff, J., O’Malley, P., Schulenberg, J. E., & Freedman-Doan, P. (2011). Student work intensity: new evidence on links to educational attainment and problem behaviors. Developmental Psychology, 47, 344–363.Google Scholar
  8. Becker, G. S. (1968). Crime and punishment: an economic approach. Journal of Political Economy, 76, 169–217.Google Scholar
  9. Blau, J. R., & Blau, P. M. (1982). The cost of inequality: metropolitan structure and violent crime. American Sociological Review, 47(1), 114–129.Google Scholar
  10. Bloom, D., Redcross, C., Zweig, J., & Azurdia, G. (2007). Transitional jobs for ex-prisoners: early impacts from a random assignment evaluation of the center for employment opportunities (CEO) prisoner reentry program. New York: MDRC.Google Scholar
  11. Braman, D. (2004). Doing time on the outside: incarceration and family life in urban America. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cantor, D., & Land, K. C. (1985). Unemployment and crime rates in the post World War II United States: a theoretical and empirical analysis. American Sociological Review, 53, 317–322.Google Scholar
  13. Clemmer, D. (1940). The prison community. Boston, MA: The Christopher Publishing House.Google Scholar
  14. Cloward, R., & Ohlin, L. (1960). Delinquency and opportunity. New York, NY: Free Press.Google Scholar
  15. Cohen, L., & Felson, M. (1979). Social change and crime rates. American Sociological Review, 44, 588–608.Google Scholar
  16. Cook, P. J. (1975). The correctional carrot: better jobs for parolees. Policy Analysis, 1(1), 11–54.Google Scholar
  17. Cornish, D. B., & Clarke, R. V. (1986). The reasoning criminal. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  18. Crutchfield, R. D. (1989). Labor stratification and violent crime. Social Forces, 68(2), 489–512.Google Scholar
  19. Crutchfield, R. D., & Pitchford, S. (1997). Work and crime: the effects of labor stratification. Social Forces, 76(1), 93–118.Google Scholar
  20. D’Amico, R. (1984). Does employment during high school impair academic progress? Sociology of Education, 57(3), 152–164.Google Scholar
  21. Earls, F. J., Brooks-Gunn, J., Raudenbush, S., & Sampson, R. (2002). Project on human development in Chicago neighborhoods (PHDCN) Boston. Boston, MA: Harvard Medical School.Google Scholar
  22. Ehrlich, I. (1973). Participation in illegitimate activities: a theoretical and empirical investigation. Journal of Political Economy, 81(3), 521–565.Google Scholar
  23. Farrington, D. P. (1986). Age and crime. Crime and Justice, 7, 189–250.Google Scholar
  24. Farrington, D. P., Ohlin, L. E., & Wilson, J. Q. (1986). Understanding and controlling crime: toward a new research strategy. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  25. Farrington, D., Gallagher, B., Morley, L., St. Ledger, R. and West, D. (1986). Unemployment, school leaving and crime. British Journal of Criminology 26,335–356.Google Scholar
  26. Freeman, R. B. (1996). Why do so many young men commit crimes and what might we do about it? Journal of Economic Perspectives, 10, 22–45.Google Scholar
  27. Freeman, R. B., & Rodgers, W. M., III (1999). Area economic conditions and the market outcomes of young men in the 1990s expansion. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 7073. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
  28. Glueck, S., & Glueck, E. (1930). Five hundred criminal careers. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  29. Glueck, S., & Glueck, E. (1937). Later criminal careers. New York: Commonwealth Fund.Google Scholar
  30. Glueck, S., & Glueck, E. (1943). Criminal careers in retrospect. New York: Commonwealth Fund.Google Scholar
  31. Goffman, A. (2010). On the run: wanted men in a Philadelphia ghetto. American Sociological Review, 74(2), 339–357.Google Scholar
  32. Gottfredson, M., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Granovettor, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78, 1360–1380.Google Scholar
  34. Greenberg, D. F. (1985). Age, crime, and social explanation. American Journal of Sociology, 91, 1–21.Google Scholar
  35. Hagan, J. (1993). The social embeddedness of crime and unemployment. Criminology, 31, 465–492.Google Scholar
  36. Harer, M. D., & Steffensmeier, D. (1992). The differing effects of economic inequality on black and white rates of violence. Social Forces, 70(4), 1035–1054.Google Scholar
  37. Harris, P. M. & Keller, K.S. (2005). Ex-offenders need not apply: The criminal background check in hiring decisions. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 21, 6–30.Google Scholar
  38. Harris, A., Evans, H., & Beckett, K. (2010). Drawing blood from stones: legal debt and social inequality in the contemporary United States. American Journal of Sociology, 115, 1753–1799.Google Scholar
  39. Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of delinquency. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  40. Holzer, H. J., Raphael, S., & Stoll, M. A. (2004). Will employers hire former offenders? Employer preferences, background checks, and their determinants. In M. Patillo, D. F. Weiman, & B. Western (Eds.), Imprisoning America: the social effects of mass incarceration. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  41. Holzer, H. J., Raphael, S., & Stoll, M. A. (2007). The effect of an applicant’s criminal history on employer hiring decisions and screening practices: evidence from Los Angeles. In S. Bushway, M. Stoll, & D. Weiman (Eds.), Barriers to reentry? The labor market for released prisoners in post-industrial America. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  42. Irwin, J., & Austin, J. (1997). It’s about time: America’s imprisonment binge. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  43. Johnson, M. K. (2004). Further evidence on adolescent employment and substance use: differences by race and ethnicity. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 45(2), 187–197.Google Scholar
  44. Kasarda, J. (1989). Urban industrial transition and the urban underclass. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 501, 26–47.Google Scholar
  45. Kling, J. R. (2006). Incarceration length, employment, and earnings. American Economic Review, 96, 863–876.Google Scholar
  46. Lageson, S., Vuolo, M., & Uggen, C. (2010). Employer decisions regarding criminal records: a comparison of self-reported and observed behavior. San Francisco, CA: American Society of Criminology Annual Meeting.Google Scholar
  47. Laub, J. H., & Sampson, R. J. (2003). Shared Beginnings, Divergent Lives: Delinquent Boys to Age 70. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.Google Scholar
  48. Loeber, R., & Farrington, D. (Eds.). (2012). From juvenile delinquency to adult crime: criminal careers, justice policy, and prevention. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  49. MacLeod, J. (1987[2010]). Ain’t no makin it: aspirations and attainments in a low-income neighborhood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  50. Marsh, H. W. (1991). Employment during high school: character building or a subversion of academic goals? Sociology of Education, 64(3), 172–189.Google Scholar
  51. Maruna, S. (2001). Making good: how ex-convicts reform and rebuild their lives. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  52. Maruna, S., & Roy, K. (2007). Amputation or reconstruction? Notes on the concept of ‘knifing off’ and desistance from crime. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 23, 104–124.Google Scholar
  53. Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. (1993). American apartheid. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Massoglia, M., & Uggen, C. (2010). Settling down and aging out: toward an interactionist theory of desistence and the transition to adulthood. American Journal of Sociology, 116(2), 543–582.Google Scholar
  55. Matsueda, R., & Heimer, K. (1997). A symbolic interactionist theory of role-transitions, role-commitments, and delinquecy. In T. B. Thornberry (Ed.), Developmental theories of crime and delinquency. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.Google Scholar
  56. McMorris, B. & Uggen, C. (2000). Alcohol and employment in the transition to adulthood.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 41, 276–94.Google Scholar
  57. Merton, R. K. (1938). Social structure and anomie. American Sociological Review, 3, 672–682.Google Scholar
  58. Moffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescent-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: a developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100, 674–701.Google Scholar
  59. Morenoff, J., & Sampson, R. J. (1997). Violent crime and the spatial dynamics of neighborhood transition: Chicago, 1970-1990. Social-Forces, 76(1), 31–64.Google Scholar
  60. Mortimer, J. T. (2003). Working and growing up in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Mortimer, J. T., & Finch, M. D. (1986). The effects of part-time work on adolescent self-concept and achievement. In K. M. Borman & J. Reisman (Eds.), Becoming a worker (pp. 66–68). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  62. Mortimer, J. T., Finch, M., Ryu, S., Shanahan, M., & Call, K. (1996). The effects of work intensity on adolescent mental health, achievement, and behavioral adjustment: new evidence from a prospective study. Child Development, 67, 1243–1261.Google Scholar
  63. National Research Council. (1998). Protecting youth at work: health, safety, and development of working children and adolescents in the United States. Washington, DC: National Academy.Google Scholar
  64. Newman, K. (1999). No shame in my game: the working poor in the inner city. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  65. Osgood, D. W. (1999). Having the time of their lives: all work and no play? In A. Booth, A. C. Crouter, & M. J. Shanahan (Eds.), Transitions to adulthood in a changing economy (pp. 176–186). Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  66. Osgood, D., Wayne, E. M., Foster, C. F., & Ruth, G. R. (Eds.). (2005). On your own without a net: the transition to adulthood for vulnerable populations. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  67. Osgood, D. W., Wilson, J. K., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Johnston, L. D. (1996). Routine activities and individual deviant behavior. American Sociological Review, 61(4), 635–655.Google Scholar
  68. Pager, D. (2003). The mark of a criminal record. American Journal of Sociology, 108, 937–975.Google Scholar
  69. Pager, D. (2007). Marked: race, crime, and finding work in an era of mass incarceration. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  70. Pager, D., Western, B., & Bonikowski, B. (2009). Discrimination in a low-wage market: a field experiment. American Sociological Review, 74, 777–799.Google Scholar
  71. Paternoster, R., Bushway, S., Apel, R., & Brame, R. (2003). The effect of teenage employment on delinquency and problem behaviors. Social Forces, 82(1), 297–335.Google Scholar
  72. Pettit, B., & Western, B. (2004). Mass imprisonment and the life course: race and class inequality in U.S. incarceration. American Sociological Review, 69, 151–169.Google Scholar
  73. Ploeger, M. (1997). Youth employment and delinquency: reconsidering a problematic relationship. Criminology, 35(4), 659–675.Google Scholar
  74. Raphael, S. (2010). Improving employment prospects for former prison inmates: challenges and policy. National Bureau of Economic Research: Working Paper w15874.Google Scholar
  75. Raphael, S., & Winter-Ember, R. (2001). Identifying the effect of unemployment on crime. Journal of Law and Economics, 44, 259–283.Google Scholar
  76. Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (1993). Crime in the making: pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  77. Shanahan, M. J., Finch, M., Mortimer, J., & Ryu, S. (1991). Adolescent work experience and depressive effect. Social Psychology Quarterly, 54, 299–317.Google Scholar
  78. Shover, N. (1996). Great pretenders: pursuits and careers of persistent thieves. Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  79. Solove, D. J., & Hoofnagle, C. J. (2006). A model regime of privacy protection (version 3.0). University of Illinois Law Review, 2006(2), 357–380.Google Scholar
  80. Staff, J., & Uggen, C. (2003). The fruits of good work: early work experiences and adolescent deviance. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 40(3), 263–290.Google Scholar
  81. Steinberg, L., & Cauffman, E. (1995). The impact of employment on adolescent development. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals of child development, London: Kingsley. (vol. 11, pp. 131–166).Google Scholar
  82. Steinberg, L., & Dornbusch, S. M. (1991). Negative correlates of part-time employment during adolescence: replication and elaboration. Developmental Psychology, 27, 304–313.Google Scholar
  83. Steinberg, L., Fegley, S., & Dornbusch, S. M. (1993). Negative impact of part-time work on adolescent adjustment: evidence from a longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology, 29(2), 171–180.Google Scholar
  84. Stoll, M., & Bushway, S. (2007). The effect of criminal background checks on hiring ex-offenders. UCLA School of Public Affairs, Department of Public Policy, Working Paper No. 07-01.Google Scholar
  85. Sullivan, M. (1989). Getting paid: youth crime and work in the inner city. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  86. Sykes, G. M. (1958). The society of captives: a study of a maximum security prison. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  87. Thornberry, T. P., Giordano, P. C., Uggen, C., Matsuda, M., & Masten, A. S. (2012). Theoretical explanations for offending during the transition to adulthood. In R. Loeber & D. Farrington (Eds.), Forthcoming in from juvenile delinquency to adult crime: criminal careers, justice policy, and prevention. New York: Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  88. Thornberry, T. P., & Krohn, M. D. (Eds.). (2003). Taking stock of delinquency: an overview of findings from contemporary longitudinal studies. New York: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  89. Toby, J. (1957). Social disorganization and stake in conformity: Complementary factors in the behavior of hoodlums. Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, 48, 12–17.Google Scholar
  90. Tonry, M. O., Ohlin, L. E., & Farrington, D. P. (1991). Human development and criminal behavior: new ways of advancing knowledge. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  91. United States Department of Justice. (2001). Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  92. Uggen, C. (1999). Ex-offenders and the conformist alternative: a Job quality model of work and crime. Social Problems, 46(1), 127–151.Google Scholar
  93. Uggen, C. (2000). Work as a turning point in the lives of criminals: a duration model of age, employment, and recidivism. American Sociological Review, 65(4), 529–546.Google Scholar
  94. Uggen, C. (2012). Crime and the great recession. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, Recession Trends Series.Google Scholar
  95. Uggen, C., Manza, J., & Behrens, A. (2004). Less than the average citizen: stigma, role transition, and the civic reintegration of convicted felons. In S. Maruna & R. Immarigeon (Eds.), After crime and punishment: pathways to offender reintegration (pp. 258–290). Cullompton, Devon: Willan Publishing.Google Scholar
  96. Uggen, C., Manza, J., & Thompson, M. (2006). Citizenship, democracy, and the civic reintegration of criminal offenders. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 605, 281–310.Google Scholar
  97. Uggen, C., & Thompson, M. (2003). The socioeconomic determinants of ill-gotten gains: within-person changes in drug use and illegal earnings. American Journal of Sociology, 109(1), 146–185.Google Scholar
  98. Uggen, C., & Wakefield, S. (2007). What have we learned from longitudinal studies of adolescent employment and crime? In A. Liberman (Ed.), The long view of crime: a synthesis of longitudinal research (pp. 189–218). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  99. Uggen, C., & Wakefield, S. (2008). What have we learned from longitudinal studies of adolescent employment and crime? In A. Liberman (Ed.), The long view of crime: a synthesis of longitudinal research (pp. 189–218). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  100. Uggen, C., Wakefield, S., & Western, B. (2005). Work and family perspectives on reentry. In J. Travis & C. Visher (Eds.), Prisoner reentry and crime in America (pp. 209–243). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  101. United States Department of Justice. (2011). Prisoners in 2010. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  102. West, D. J., & Farrington, D. P. (1973). Who becomes delinquent? London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  103. West, D. J., & Farrington, D. P. (1977). The delinquent way of life. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  104. Western, B. (2002). The impact of incarceration on wage mobility and inequality. American Sociological Review, 67(4), 526–546.Google Scholar
  105. Western, B. (2006). Punishment and inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  106. Western, B., Kleykamp, M., & Rosenfeld, J. (2004). Crime, punishment, and American inequality. In K. Neckerman (Ed.), Social Inequality (pp. 771–796). New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  107. Western, B., Kling, J. R., & Weiman, D. F. (2001). The labor market consequences of incarceration. Crime and Delinquency, 47, 410–427.Google Scholar
  108. Wilson, W. J. (1996). When work disappears: the world of the new urban poor. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  109. Wolfgang, M., Figlio, R., & Sellin, T. (1972). Delinquency in a birth cohort. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  110. Wright, J. P., & Cullen, F. T. (2000). Juvenile involvement in occupational delinquency. Criminology, 38, 863–896.Google Scholar
  111. Wright, J. P., Cullen, F. T., & Williams, N. (1997). Working while in school and delinquent involvement: implications for social policy. Crime and Delinquency, 43, 203–221.Google Scholar
  112. Wright, J. P., Cullen, F. T., & Williams, N. (2002). Embededness of adolescent employment and participation in delinquency: a life course perspective. Western Criminology Review, 4(1), 1–19.Google Scholar
  113. Zweig, J., Yahner, J., & Redcross, C. (2011). For whom does a transitional jobs program work? Examining the recidivism effects of the center for employment opportunities program on former prisoners at high, medium, and low risk of reoffending. Journal of Criminology and Public Policy, 10, 945–972.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

Personalised recommendations