David P. Farrington

Professor of Psychological Criminality

Criminology Department

Cambridge University – 7 West Road

Cambridge CB3 9DT England

Email: dpfl@cam.ac.uk



David P. Farrington may be best known for his work with the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development, in which he develops an explanation of the life course theoretical perspective regarding criminality. He has conducted one of the longest, most extensive longitudinal studies of juvenile delinquency and adult criminality ever attempted. Theorists belonging to this perspective look at the multidimensional roots of criminal behavior, not at a single aspect such as a neighborhood or peer groups. Instead, this perspective purports that numerous factors are at work simultaneously (social, personal, and economic), and that these influences change over time, as does the person who grows from adolescence into adulthood.

Research on changes in criminality through the life cycle was pioneered by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, who conducted numerous longitudinal studies of criminal behavior while at Harvard University in the 1930’s. Their work was ignored for many years, and is now, in the 1990’s, gaining more attention as an explanation of criminal behavior as other researchers pore over their original studies and conduct more extensive analyses of their data. Previously, the Glueck’s were criticized for their "…integration of biological, psychological, and social factors" (Siegel, 1998: 264) while the rest of the sociological community focused on social and social-psychological aspects of crime and delinquency. Early in the century, the Glueck’s found that the earlier the onset of delinquent acts, combined with poor parenting skills and discipline, large, low income, single parent families with few educational opportunities were predictors of delinquency and future criminality.

Biographical Information

David P. Farrington is a Professor of Psychological Criminality at Cambridge University, England, where he has earned his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D in psychology. He has filled this position since 1969. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh. He has published twenty books and has authored more than 100 journal articles on both criminological and psychological topics as well as 108 book chapters. His interests focus upon longitudinal studies of delinquency and crime. He is a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences Panel on Criminal Career Research and Co-chair of the U.S Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Study Group on Very Young Offenders. Farrington is the President-elect of the American Society of Criminology, and President of the European Association of Psychology and Law, as well as being involved in numerous other professional organizations. He is a past President of the British Society of Criminology. He was awarded the Sellin-Glueck Award at the American Society of Criminologists in 1984 for his international contributions to criminology. He is a visiting fellow at the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics; joint editor of the Cambridge Criminology Series and of the journal Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, as well as a member of 16 other journals.


Farrington’s career has focused on criminality and aggression, as well as the development of delinquency and criminal behavior over the life span. As early as 1971, Farrington (in conjunction with D.J. West) began publishing on the comparisons of early delinquency. His writings have covered such topics as the labeling perspective, and can be seen in his research articles in the late 1970’s. In 1977, "The Effects of Public Labeling" was published in the British Journal of Criminology, in which Farrington hypothesized that people who are publicly labeled will increase their deviant behavior, Data for this article was collected from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development; support was found that the label attached to delinquent behavior did indeed support deviance amplification, as publicly labeled youths had much higher self-reported delinquency scores than those not labeled. Farrington has focused most exclusively on the development of criminal careers throughout the life cycle. In conducting research on criminal careers, he identifies a number of "causes of offending: socioeconomic deprivation, antisocial parents and siblings, poor parental [practices], broken homes, low intelligence and school failure, impulsiveness, rational decision-making, and delinquent peers" (Farrington, 1990:111). Resulting from his research, he states that additional funding should be spent on prevention programs.

The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development

One of the most important life course studies to be conducted has been the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (Siegel, 1998). This longitudinal study, begun by D. J. West in 1961-1962, has followed the criminal careers of 411 London boys born in the years directly before and after 1953. It has covered a 24 year span, in which the boys were interviewed eight times, beginning when they were eight years old and concluding when they were 32. It has been one of the most serious attempts to identify factors that contribute to the continuance of criminality through the life course.

Through the use of self reports, in-depth interviews, and psychological testing, Farrington combined both qualitative and quantitative research methods as a way to explain and understand the intricacies and influences of antisocial and prosocial tendencies in both criminal and non-criminal young men. West and Farrington (1977:2), report that "…the phenomena of the delinquent way of life is most faithfully represented by a combination of qualitative and quantitative data such as our own."

The interviewers were young men in their mid-20’s and utilized both closed-end and open-ended questions addressing topics ranging from "…family circumstances, educational and work history, social attitudes and opinions, leisure pursuits, drinking and smoking habits, sexual experience, involvement in fights, delinquent activities, confrontations with the police, and experience with the courts" (West and Farrington, 1977:4). The study began with 411 boys, and decreased to 389 boys by the time of the third report. This was still 95% of the original sample, and it occurred ten years after the original selection.

The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development has been published in three books. The first report covered the boys’ lives while in primary school, describing the schools the boys attended, their neighborhoods, and their family situations. The second report compared the boys while they were in secondary school, up to their 17th birthdays, and examined what delinquent acts they had been involved in. The third report, written in 1977, follows the boys from their 17th to 19th birthdays and looks at their histories in comparison to the first two reports.

Numerous conclusions have been drawn from the study. Farrington reports that one can observe antisocial personality traits in persistent offenders as early as age 8; that they display dishonest and aggressive tendencies. The typical offender is a male born into a large family with poor parental supervision exemplified by harsh and erratic punishment, the families are of lower income, parents are divorced or separated, and either a parent or an older sibling also have criminal records. They also have a record of poor behavior during their primary school years. The delinquent young men in this study also have delinquent friends, work sporadically, and do not have a criminal area of specialization. Criminal behavior peaks at around age 17 or 18 and decreases as the youths reach their 20’s. By the age of 30, most of these young men are divorced or separated, have become absent parents, and recreate their own lives in those of their children, creating a generational form of criminal activity. "Young delinquent adults, by their irresponsibly hedonistic attitudes and ineffectual methods of coping with social demands, tend to recreate for their own children the same undesirable family environments, thus perpetuating from one generation to the next a range of social problems of which delinquency is but one symptom" (West and Farrington, 1977:161).

In a comparison with the non-delinquent young men in the study, Farrington found that the delinquents "…are less conforming and less socially restrained" (West and Farrington, 1977:78). They also hang around more often in all-male groups, take prohibited drugs, are more aggressive and ready to fight. It was also found that "…[t]here was a strong tendency for criminal mothers to be married to criminal fathers, and for criminal parents of either sex to produce criminal children" (West and Farrington, 1977:125). Being born and raised in criminal families were a significant result of this study, especially when looking at the criminality of fathers and sons.

West and Farrington offer "tentative" policy implications based upon their Cambridge Study: offer welfare assistance to the most needy families, change school curriculum to address the needs to those identified as having trouble in school, provide prosocial leisure activities for those kids identified as heading toward delinquency, and provide intervention programs for young people to better prepare them for adulthood and parenthood.

In a recently received email correspondence from Dr. Farrington, he reports that he will soon be working on reinterviewing the men in the Cambridge Study at age 45+. His goal is to conduct social interviews (as he did when the men were 32 years of age), and psychiatric interviews, with the possibility of also interviewing the spouse/cohabitee and children (Farrington, 6/17/98 email).


Farrington’s Theoretical Model

According to the information gleaned from Farrington’s analysis of the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (Siegel, 1998), the following can be said of life course theoretical models:

Predictions of future delinquency can be made based upon an examination of childhood factors.
Such things as personal and social factors contribute to the propensity of future criminal behavior.
Having goals, but not the means to accomplish them, lead to criminal behavior.
The type of family (criminal, rule abiding) effects children’s behavior and therefore leads to future delinquency and criminality.
There is a rational choice to either commit or refrain from delinquent behavior based upon the perceived rewards and punishments.
The types of criminality and the desire to commit illegal acts changes over time.

In other words, many factors come into play when attempting to look at delinquency and adult criminality from the life course perspective. "While most adult criminals began their career in childhood, life events may help some children forgo criminality as they mature" (Siegel, 1998: 269-270).

The Pittsburgh Youth Survey

Farrington is the Co-Principle Investigator of another longitudinal study of delinquency and criminality called the Pittsburgh Youth Survey. He, and Principle Investigator Rolf Loeber, a Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, are investigating the onset of delinquency and developmental processes on 1,500 Pittsburgh boys (500 each in the first, fourth, and seventh grades). This study was begun in 1987-1988, and involves the boys, their mothers, and their teachers (Farrington, 1996). As Dr. Farrington reports, the Pittsburgh Study is following approximately 500 boys from ages 7 to 17 and another 500 boys from 13 to 23.

Current Work Projects

Dr. Farrington advises that he is working on various other projects besides those previously mentioned. They include the evaluation of a boot camp for young offenders, writing papers with Ph.D. students, a study on street lighting and crime, wife rape and criminal victimization in the Cayman Islands, as well as collaborating on several other longitudinal studies. He has a recent book publication on serious and violent offenders that was produced in February 1998, and a BJS publication, "Crime and Justice in the United States and England, 1981 – 96" soon to be issued.

Contributions to the field of Criminology

Longitudinal studies of delinquency and criminal careers give a more in-depth picture of what is happening with crime problems in our society. They add to the wealth of knowledge and are more detailed than cross-sectional studies of crime. Farrington’s work on the 411 London boys participating in the Cambridge Study of Delinquent Development over a 24 year time span incorporates a number of different theoretical perspectives that have all been very popular during the last 50 years. The distinction is that it becomes more and more obvious that there is not one single theoretical explanation of delinquency and criminality, but that multiple factors are interacting to influence illegal behaviors. Dr. Farrington has made a tremendous impact on the field of criminology with his studies and resulting publications. Hopefully this paper offers a glimpse of his work, although it by no means offers a complete overview.



Blumstein, Alfred, Jacqueline Cohen, and David P. Farrington. (1988). "Criminal Career

Research: Its Value For Criminology." Criminology, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1-33.

Connell, Anne and David P. Farrington. (1996). "Bullying Among Incarcerated Young

Offenders: Developing an Interview Schedule and Some Preliminary Results."

Journal of Adolescence. Vol. 19, No. 1, 75-89.

Farrington, David P. (1998). Email transmissions from (dpf1@cam.ac.uk) to Donna

Massey (dmm4546@garnet.acns.fsu.edu).

Farrington, David P. (1996). "Self Reported Delinquency and a Combined Delinquency

Seriousness Scale Based on Boys, Mothers, and Teachers: Concurrent and

Predictive Validity for African-Americans and Caucasians." Criminology, Vol.

34, No. 4, 493-518.

Farrington, David P. (1995). "The Development of Offending and Antisocial Behaviour

From Childhood: Key Findings from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent

Development." Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines. Vol. 36, No. 6, 929-964.

Farrington, David P. (1990). "Implications of Criminal Career Research for the

Prevention of Offending". Journal of Adolescence. Vol. 13, No. 2, 93-113.

Farrington, David P. (1989). "Early Predictors of Adolescent Aggression and Adult

Violence." Violence and Victims. Vol. 4, No. 2, 79-100.

Farrington, David P. (1981). "The Prevalence of Convictions." British Journal of

Criminology. Vol. 21, No. 2, 173-175.

Farrington, David P. (1977). "The Effects of Public Labeling." British Journal of

Criminology. Vol. 17, No. 2, 112-125.

Farrington, David P. and John Gunn (eds). (1985). Aggression and Dangerousness.

Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.

Farrington, David P., Gwen Gundry, and Donald J. West. "The Familial Transmission of

Criminality" Medicine, Science and the Law, 15:177-186

Farrington, David P., Lloyd E. Ohlin, and James Q. Wilson. (1986). Understanding

and Controlling Crime: Toward a New Research Strategy. New York:


Farrington, David P. and Roger Tarling. (1985). Prediction in Criminology. Albany:

State University of New York Press.


Farrington, David P. and Donald J. West. (1993). "Criminal, Penal and Life Histories of

Chronic Offenders: Risk and Protective Factors and Early Identification." Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health. Vol. 3, No. 4, 492-523.

Nagin, Daniel S. and David P. Farrington. (1992). "The Stability of Criminal Potential

from Childhood to Adulthood." Criminology. Vol. 30, No. 2, 235-260.

Siegel, Larry J. (1998). Criminology, Theories, Patterns and Typologies, Sixth

Edition. Belmont, CA: West/Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Tonry, Michael and David P. Farrington (eds.). Building a Safer Society: Strategic

Approaches to Crime Prevention. Volume 19. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Tonry, M., L. E. Ohlin, and D. P. Farrington. (1991). Human Development and

Criminal Behavior: New Ways of Advancing Knowledge. New York:


West, D. J. and D. P. Farrington. (1977). The Delinquent Way of Life. Third Report

of the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development. London: Heinemann

Educational Books Ltd.