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Age and Crime (From Crime and Justice, V 7, P 189-250, 1986, Michael Tonry and Norval Morris, eds. See NCJ-105150)

NCJ Number
D P Farrington
Date Published
62 pages
This paper examines the relationship between age and crime using official criminal statistics, longitudinal and cross-sectional research, and self-report data.
The age-crime curve typically shows an increase in rates from the minimum age of criminal responsibility and reaches a peak in the teenage years. It then declines, at first quickly and then more gradually. The curve also seems to reflect variations in prevalence (the proportion of persons who are offenders) rather than incidence (the rate of offending by offenders). Age-crime curves for individuals do not resemble the aggregate curve, since incidence does not change consistently between the onset and the termination of criminal careers. This has major implications for criminal justice policy because the greatest residual length of criminal careers (and hence, the greatest potential incapacitative effect) may be between the ages of 30 and 40, rather than at the peak age. Different types of offenses peak at different ages. This probably reflects crime switching rather than the replacement of one group of offenders by another. There is little specialization in offending, but specialization does increase with age. Age effects need to be separated from period and cohort effects. The age-crime curve probably reflects decreasing parental controls, a peaking of peer influence in in adolescence, and increasing family and community controls with age. 129 references (Author abstract modified)


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