Criminality and family formation

Mioara Zoutewelle-Terovan MSc

Promotors prof. dr. mr. Catrien Bijleveld (NSCR), prof. dr. Aat Liefbroer (FSW-VU/NIDI)
Co-promotor drs. Victor van der Geest

This research is focused on the relation between criminal and relational careers. In studying criminality from a life course perspective it is important to describe not only individual differences in criminal careers, but also to ask how these differences are linked to family formation. A limitation of previous studies is the undirectional focus on one of the careers, while reciprocal influences develop. Transitions in the life course domain such as family or work influence criminal career, but criminal behavior also influences family life events. Moreover, it can be that no causality exists between the two events (family formation and criminal behavior), but the relation is the result of background characteristics (such as personality, educational patterns in the family etc) influencing both. 

According to the theory of Gottfredson and Hirschi, the age-crime relationship is invariant with respect to gender, race, income and marital status. The authors consider that desistance from crime is an age attribute and is not influenced by salient life events. Sampson and Laub developed the age graded theory of informal social control focusing on the factors that limit an individual’s tendency to engage in crime. They place the accent on strong social bond/attachment/commitment to conventional institutions such as marriage and consider that “good things” can happen to “bad people”. In this project we will test hypotheses deriving from these theories, thus identifying a possible causal relation between marriage and crime and test whether the effect of marriage on criminality is true or spurious. Existing research suggests that entry into marriage decreases criminal activity, however, that research often lacks controls for potential confounding factors and focuses on males only. To achieve these aims, we analyze a rich longitudinal dataset with information on social background, personality and individual characteristics, family life course, as well as complete information on offending. This allows us to control for confounders in the described relation, and more specifically, to investigate the impact of intimate relationship formation on criminal careers over and above the impact of static inter-individual differences. The possibility of analyzing a female sample brings us on a less explored path in describing gender differences.