The Twelfth Jack Tizard Memorial Lecture*
at the ACPP 2nd European Conference, Winchester, U.K., 2 September 1994.
Development of Offending and
Behaviour from Childhood: Key
from the Cambridge Study in
David P. Farrington
the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development, 411 South London males have
been followed up from age 8 to age 32. The most important childhood (age
8‑10) predictors of delinquency were antisocial child behaviour,
impulsivity, low intelligence and attainment, family criminality, poverty and
poor parental child‑rearing behaviour. Offending was only one element of
a larger syndrome of antisocial behaviour that arose in childhood and
persisted into adulthood. Marriage, employment and moving out of London
fostered desistance from offending. Early prevention experiments are needed to
reduce delinquency, targeting low attainment, poor parenting, impulsivity and
Longitudinal study, delinquent development, antisocial behaviour, preventing
believe that this is an appropriate Memorial Lecture for Jack Tizard for three
main reasons. First, Tizard was very interested in offending and antisocial
behaviour. He devoted a substantial part of his Presidential Address to the
British Psychological Society (Tizard, 1976) to a critical discussion of the
delinquency research of Cyril Burt, acknowledging Burt's pioneering
epidemiological work but pointing out the limitations of the retrospective
case‑control design in which delinquents were compared with matched
nondelinquents. Tizard was also, of course, very interested in residential
treatment for delinquents (Tizard, Sinclair & Clarke, 1975).
Second, Jack Tizard played an important
role in fostering longitudinal epidemiological research in the United Kingdom
by co‑directing the Isle of Wight study with Michael Rutter from its
inception in 1964 until his death in 1979 (Rutter, 1981). This study has been
extremely important in estimating the prevalence and comorbidity of childhood
psychiatric disorders in a complete population of children and also in
identifying risk factors and documenting the course of disorders over time (Rutter,
Tizard & Whitmore, 1970; Rutter, 1989).
Third, Jack Tizard was a leading advocate
of the use of fundamental research findings in the formulation of social
policy, as is again seen in his Presidential Address and emphasized by its
title: "Psychology and social policy" (Tizard, 1976). He thought
that there was too much emphasis on classification, diagnosis and testing, and
not enough emphasis on the use of social policy experiments to advance
knowledge about causes. As a small tribute to Tizard's interest in social
policy, I have tried to address policy implications in some detail in my
The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development
reviewing the development of offending and antisocial behaviour, I will
particularly describe results obtained in the Cambridge Study in Delinquent
Development, which is a prospective longitudinal survey of the development of
delinquency and antisocial behaviour in 411 South London boys, mostly born in
1953. These males have been followed up by personal interviews from age 8 to
age 32. The Study began in 1961, and was originally directed by Professor
Donald West. I joined him to work on it in 1969, and I have directed it since
1982. Results of the Study have been described in four books (West, 1969,
1982; West & Farrington, 1973, 1977), and in more than 60 papers listed by
Farrington and West (1990). This paper will focus particularly on the most
recently obtained results.
original aim of the Study was to describe the development of delinquent and
criminal behaviour in inner‑city males, to investigate how far it could
be predicted in advance, and to explain why juvenile delinquency began, why it
did or did not continue into adult crime, and why adult crime usually ended as
men reached their twenties. The main focus was on continuity or discontinuity
in behavioural development, on the effects of life events on development, and
on predicting future behaviour. The Study was not designed to test any one
particular theory about delinquency but to test many different hypotheses
about the causes and correlates of offending. One reason for casting the net
wide at the start and measuring many different variables was the belief that
theoretical fashions changed over time and that it was important to try to
measure as many variables as possible in which future researchers might be
interested. Another reason for measuring a wide range of variables was the
fact that long-terrn longitudinal surveys were very uncommon, and that the
value of this particular one would be enhanced if it yielded information of
use not only to delinquency researchers but also to those interested in
alcohol and drug use, educational difficulties, poverty
and poor housing, unemployment, sexual behaviour, aggression, other social
problems, and human development generally.
Characteristics of the Sample
At the time they were first contacted in
1961‑62, the boys were all living in a working‑class area of South
London. The vast majority of the sample was chosen by taking all the boys who
were then aged 8‑9 and on the registers of six state primary schools
within a one mile radius of a research office which had been established. In
addition to 399 boys from these six schools, 12 boys from a local school for
the educationally subnormal were included in the sample, in an attempt to make
it more representative of the population of boys living in the area. Hence,
the boys were not a probability sample drawn from a population, but rather a
complete population of boys of that age in that area at that time.
Most of the boys (357, or 87%) were white in
appearance and of British origin, in the sense that they were being brought up
by parents who had themselves been brought up in England, Scotland, or Wales.
Of the remaining 54 boys, 12 were Afro‑Caribbean, having at least one
parent of West Indian (usually) or African origin. Of the remaining 42 boys of
non‑British origin, 14 had at least one parent from the North or South
of Ireland, 12 were Cypriots, and the other 16 boys had at least one parent
from another country (Poland, Malta, Germany, France, Australia, Spain, Sweden
and Portugal). On the basis of their fathers' occupations when they were aged
8, 94% of the boys could be described as working‑class (categories III,
IV or V on the Registrar General's scale, describing skilled,
semi‑skilled or unskilled manual workers), in comparison with the
national figure of 78% at that time. The majority of the boys were living in
conventional two‑parent families with both a father and a mother figure;
at age 8‑9, only 6% of the boys had no operative father and only 1% had
no operative mother. This was, therefore, overwhelmingly a traditional white,
urban, working class sample of British origin.
Data Collected at Different Ages
A major aim in this survey was to measure as many
factors as possible that were alleged to be causes or correlates of offending.
The boys were interviewed and tested in their schools when they were aged
about 8‑9, 10‑11 and 14‑15, by male or female psychologists.
For simplicity, these tests are referred to as the tests at ages 8, 10 and 14.
The males were interviewed in our research office at about 16, 18 and 21, and
in their homes at about 25 and 32, by young male social science graduates. At
all ages except 21 and 25 (when subsamples were interviewed), the aim was to
interview the whole sample, and it was always possible to trace and interview
a high proportion; 389 out of 410 still alive at age 18 (95%) and 378 out of
403 still alive at age 32 (94%), for example. The tests in schools measured
individual characteristics such as intelligence, attainment, personality, and
psychomotor impulsivity, while information was collected in the
inter‑views about such topics as living circumstances, employment
histories, relationships with females, leisure activities such as drinking,
drug use and fighting, and offending behaviour.
In addition to interviews and tests with the boys, interviews with
carried out by female psychiatric social workers who visited their homes.
These took place about once a year from when the boy was about 8 until when he
was aged 14‑15 and was in his last year of compulsory education. The
primary informant was the mother, although many fathers were also seen. The
parents provided details about such matters as the boy's daring or
nervousness, family income, family size, their employment histories, their
history of psychiatric treatment, their child‑rearing practices
(including attitudes, discipline, and parental disharmony), their closeness of
supervision of the boy, and his temporary or permanent separations from them.
Obstetric records were obtained for boys born in hospital. Also, when the boy
was aged 12, the parents completed questionnaires about their
child‑rearing attitudes and about his leisure activities.
teachers completed questionnaires when the boys were aged about 8, 10, 12 and
14. These furnished data about their troublesome and aggressive school
behaviour, their restlessness and poor concentration, their school attainments
and their truancy. Delinquency rates of secondary schools were obtained from
the local education authority. Ratings were also obtained from the boys' peers
when they were in the primary schools, about such topics as their daring,
dishonesty, troublesomeness and popularity.
were also carried out in the central Criminal Record Office in London to try
to locate findings of guilt of the males, of their biological mothers,
fathers, brothers and sisters, of their wives and cohabitees, and of people
who offended with them (their co‑offenders). The minimum age of criminal
responsibility in England is 10. The Criminal Record Office contains records
of all relatively serious offences committed in Great Britain or Ireland. In
the case of 18 males who had emigrated outside Great Britain and Ireland by
age 32, applications were made to search their criminal records in the eight
countries where they had settled, and searches were actually carried out in
four countries. Since most males did not emigrate until their twenties, and
since the emigrants had rarely been convicted in England, it is likely that
the criminal records are quite complete.
were only counted if they were for offences normally recorded in the Criminal
Record Office, thereby excluding minor crimes such as common assault, traffic
infractions and drunkenness. The most common offences included were thefts,
burglaries and unauthorized taking of vehicles, although there were also quite
a few offences of violence, vandalism, fraud and drug abuse. In order not to
rely on official records for information about delinquency and crime, self-reports
of offending were obtained from the males at every age from 14 onwards
the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development has a unique combination of
features. Eight face‑to‑face interviews have been completed with
the males over a period of 24 years, between the ages of 8 and 32. The
attrition rate is unusually low for such a long‑term survey. The main
focus of interest is on crime and delinquency, but the survey also provides
information about alcohol and drug abuse, educational difficulties, poverty
and poor housing, sexual behaviour, unemployment and other social problems.
The sample size of about 400 is large enough for many statistical
analyses, but small enough to permit detailed case histories of the males and
their families. Information has been obtained from multiple sources, including
the males themselves, their parents, teachers, peers, and official (criminal,
hospital and school) records. Generally, the data came from parents, teachers, peers or tests completed by the males between the ages
of 8 and 14, but primarily from interviews with the males between the ages of
16 and 32. Information has been collected about a wide variety of theoretical
constructs at different ages, including biological (e.g. pulse rate, height,
weight), psychological (e.g. intelligence, impulsivity), family (e.g. parental
supervision and discipline), and social (e.g. poor housing, socioeconomic
status) factors. Hence, the relative importance of these different factors as
predictors and correlates of offending can be investigated.
Other Prospective Longitudinal Surveys
have been very few prospective longitudinal studies of community samples of
several hundreds, including delinquency and crime data, and several personal
interviews with the subjects over a period of at least 10 years (Farrington,
1988a). The most outstanding project of this type is the Dunedin study in New
Zealand, in which nearly 1,000 children born in 1972‑73 have been
followed up to the present, with nine personal data collection waves between
the ages of 3 and 21 (Moffitt & Silva, 1988). After this, the next most
useful project (since it has so far provided less information about
delinquency) is the Christchurch Health and Development Study, also in New
Zealand, in which over 1,000 children born in 1977 were studied at birth, at
four months, and annually up to age 13, with data from
children, parents and teachers (Fergusson, Horwood & Lynskey, 1993).
important project (and the most comparable British research to the Cambridge
Study) is the Newcastle Thousand‑Family Study, in which over 800
children born in 1947 were frequently contacted between birth and age 15 and
finally interviewed at ages 22 and 32 (Kolvin et al, 1990). Also noteworthy is
the American National Youth Survey, in which 1,700 children originally aged
11‑17 in 1976 have been seen nine times up to the present (Elliott,
Huizinga & Menard, 1989). However, unlike the Dunedin, Christchurch,
Newcastle and Cambridge surveys, which included several data sources, the
National Youth Survey only collected self‑report data from the children
(in addition to police records, of course).
important longitudinal survey is the Kauai study in Hawaii, in which nearly
700 children born in 1955 were followed up from birth to age 32, with four
personal data collection waves (Werner & Smith, 1992). The classic
American longitudinal surveys of Glueck and Glueck (1968) in Massachusetts,
McCord (1979) in Boston, Robins (1979) in St. Louis and Wolfgang, Thornberry
and Figlio (1987) in Philadelphia included only between one and three personal
contacts with the subjects. A new generation of American longitudinal studies
was mounted in the 1980s, with frequent personal contacts and multiple data
sources (Huizinga, Esbensen & Weiher, 1991; Loeber, Stoutharner‑Loeber,
Van Kammen & Farrington, 1991; Thornberry et al, 1991). When their samples
have been followed up for more than a decade, these projects may yet become as
important as the New Zealand studies.
British National Survey of Health and Development included 20 personal
contacts up to age 43, but unfortunately only collected offending data up to
the 21st birthday (Wadsworth, 1979). The later National Child Development
Study has so far collected no crime data. The important Nottingham
longitudinal survey (Newson, Newson & Adams, 1993) involved repeated
interviews with mothers but not with children. Other longitudinal surveys in
England (Rutter, 1981), Sweden (Janson, 1984; Magnusson, 1988), Finland (Pulkkinen,
1988) and Canada (LeBlanc & Frechette, 1989) included only between one and
three personal contacts with the subjects.
The Natural History of Offending
to age 32, over one‑third of the Study males (153, or 37%) were
convicted of criminal offences. The prevalence of offending increased up to
age 17 and then decreased. Many other projects show a similar age‑crime
curve (Farrington, 1986a). While the peak age for the number of offenders and
the number of offences was 17, roughly equal numbers of offences were
committed by the Study males as juveniles (age 10‑16), as young adults
(age 17‑20), and as adults (age 21‑32). Nearly
three‑quarters of those convicted as juveniles were reconvicted between
ages 17 and 24, and nearly half of the juvenile offenders were reconvicted
between ages 25 and 32 (Farrington, 1992a). Other studies show a similar
continuity in offending (Stattin & Magnusson, 1991). On average, official
criminal careers began at age 17, lasted 6 years, ended at age 23, and
included 4.5 offences leading to conviction. The men first convicted at the
earliest ages tended to become the most persistent offenders, in committing
large numbers of offences at high rates over long time periods. Moffitt (1993)
suggested that the "life‑course‑persistent" offenders,
who began early, were different in kind from the
"adolescence‑limited" offenders who began later and had short
"chronic offenders" at age 32 were defined as the 24 men (6% of the
sample) who committed half of all officially recorded offences (Farrington
& West, 1993). Many other projects report a similar proportion of chronic
offenders (Tracy, Wolfgang & Figlio, 1990). They had each committed at
least nine officially recorded offences, and they had especially long criminal
careers characterized by high rates of offending. They were versatile rather
than specialized offenders; 16 of the 24 committed at least five different
types of offences (out of 10 types altogether). They also accounted for
substantial proportions of the self‑reported offences. For example,
between ages 15 and 18, the chronic offenders committed 53% of all
self‑reported burglaries and 48% of all self‑reported thefts of
vehicles. Because they are so few and account for so much of the crime
problem, the chronics are important targets for prevention and treatment.
juvenile and young adult offences were committed with others, but the
incidence of co‑offending declined with age (Reiss & Farrington,
1991). Burglary, robbery and theft from vehicles were particularly likely to
involve co‑offenders. Co‑offenders tended to be similar in age and
sex to Study males and to live close to their addresses and to the locations
of the offences. It was rare for Study males to offend with their fathers,
mothers, sisters or wives, or with unrelated females.
Co‑offending with brothers was most likely when a Study male had
brothers who were close in age to him.
The most common reasons given for delinquency were
utilitarian, rational or economic: offences were committed for material gain
(Farrington, 1993c). The next most common
category of reasons were for excitement, for enjoyment, or to relieve boredom.
Similar results were reported in Montreal by LeBlanc and Frechette (1989).
Other reasons were designed to minimize the offender's responsibility (e.g. I
was young; I was drunk) or to blame peers. Reasons for fighting depended on
whether the boy was alone or in a group (Farrington, Berkowitz & West,
1982). In individual fights, the boy was usually provoked, became angry, and
hit out to hurt his opponent. In
group fights, the boy often said that he became involved to help a friend or
because he was attacked.
Self‑Reportcd and Official Delinquency
considerable extent, the self‑reports and official records identified
the same people as the worst offenders, as other researchers have also found (Huizinga
& Elliott, 1986). The 80 boys who admitted the highest number of
delinquent acts when seen at ages 14 and 16 overlapped significantly with the
85 convicted juvenile delinquents, since 41 boys were in both groups (West
& Farrington, 1973). Consequently, conclusions about characteristics of
offenders based on convictions were generally similar to conclusions based on
self‑reported delinquency. For example, of 39 key predictors and
correlates of offending measured between ages 8 and 18, 35 were significantly
related to both official and self‑reported delinquency (Farrington,
1992c, Table 6. 1). The only exceptions were that official (but not self-reported)
delinquents were attending high delinquency rate schools and were relatively
small at ages 8‑10 and 18, while self‑reported (but not official)
delinquents tended to come from low social class families at age 8‑10.
Self‑reported offending and official
convictions showed that the most common crimes of burglary, shoplifting, theft
of and from vehicles, and vandalism declined in prevalence from the teenage
years to the twenties and thirties (Farrington, 1989c). However, theft from
work increased with age. The cumulative prevalence of self‑reported
offending was very high; 96% of males admitted committing at least one crime
that could, in theory, have led to a conviction. Hence, at least in this
sample of urban working‑class males, offending was not statistically
deviant, although it was less common to commit relatively serious offences
such as burglary. Only 22% of males admitted burglary, and only 14% were
convicted of burglary, up to age 32.
The relationship between self‑reported
offending and official convictions was strongest for burglary and for theft of
and from vehicles, but it was also significant for shoplifting, theft from
machines, assault, and drug use (Farrington, 1989c). The two measures were not
significantly related for theft from work, vandalism, and fraud, because of
the low probability of an offender being convicted for these offences. When
data were cumulated over the whole period between ages 10 and 32, the
probability of an offender being convicted (sooner or later) was quite high
for several types of offences: over 50% for burglary and theft of vehicles,
and 25% for theft from vehicles. The probability of an offender being
convicted increased with age. For burglary, theft of and from vehicles, and
drug use, self‑reports of offending among unconvicted males
significantly predicted future convictions for these offences, showing that
self‑reports provided valid information about offending.
Delinquency and Antisocial Behaviour
Cambridge Study shows that delinquency is only one element of a much larger
syndrome of antisocial behaviour that tends to persist over time, as Robins
(1986) has persuasively argued. For example, the boys who were convicted up to
age 18 (most commonly for offences of dishonesty, such as burglary and theft)
were significantly more deviant than the nonoffenders on almost every factor
that we investigated at that age (West & Farrington, 1977). The convicted
delinquents drank more beer, they got drunk more often, and they were more
likely to say that drink made them violent. They smoked more cigarettes, they
had started smoking at an earlier age, and they were more likely to be heavy
gamblers. They were more likely to have been convicted for minor motoring
offences, to have driven after drinking at least 10 units of alcohol (e.g. 5
pints of beer), and to have been injured in road accidents. The delinquents
were more likely to have taken prohibited drugs such as marijuana or LSD,
although few of them had convictions for drug offences. Also, they were more
likely to have had sexual intercourse, especially with a variety of different
girls, and especially beginning at an early age, but they were less likely to
convicted delinquents at age 18 tended to hold relatively well paid but low
status jobs, and they were more likely to have erratic work histories
including periods of unemployment. They were more likely to be living away
from home, and they tended not to get on well with their parents. They were
more likely to be tattooed, and they had significantly low pulse rates. The
delinquents were more likely to go out in the evenings, and were especially
likely to spend time hanging about on the street. They tended to go around in
groups of four or more, and were more likely to be involved in group violence
or vandalism. They were much more likely to have been involved in fights, to
have started fights, to have carried weapons, and to have used weapons in
fights. They were also more likely to express aggressive and
anti‑establishment attitudes on a questionnaire (negative to police,
school, rich people and civil servants).
was interesting that the peak age of offending, at 17‑18, coincided with
the peak age of affluence for many convicted males. Convicted males tended to
come from low income families at age 8 and later tended to have low incomes
themselves at age 32. However, at age 18, they were relatively well paid in
comparison with nondelinquents; whereas convicted delinquents might be working
as unskilled labourers on building sites and getting the full adult wage for
this job, nondelinquents might be in poorly‑paid jobs with prospects,
such as bank clerks, or might still be students. These results show that the
link between income and offending is quite complex.
The Follow‑Up at Age 32
aims of the latest follow‑up were to extend knowledge about criminal
careers into the thirties, to investigate the social adjustment and adult life
styles of current and past offenders and nonoffenders, and to study how far
persistence and desistance of offending could be predicted.
Most efforts in the 2 years between December 1984 and November 1986
directed towards locating and interviewing as many of the men
in the sample as
Tremendous efforts were made to secure interviews, because of our belief
(based in part on previous results obtained in this survey)
that the most interesting
in any research on offending tended to be the hardest to locate and the
uncooperative. Surveys in which only about 75% of the target sample (or
less) are inter‑viewed are likely to produce results which seriously
true level of criminal behaviour. Generally, an increase in the percentage
from 75% to 95% leads to a disproportionate increase in the validity
the results; for example, at age 18, 36% of the one‑sixth of the sample
most difficult to interview were convicted, compared with only 22% of the
who were interviewed more easily, a statistically significant difference
(West & Farrington, 1977).
Eventually, after a great deal of detective
work, every one of our men was located.
to age 32, eight of the men had died, and 20 had emigrated permanently. Of
remaining 383 who were alive and in the United Kingdom, 360 were interviewed
(94%). Seven of the 20 emigrated men were also interviewed, either
or during a temporary return visit that they made to the United Kingdom,
a total number inter‑viewed of 367. In addition, nine emigrated men
questionnaires, and two co‑operative wives of refusers filled in
behalf of their husbands, in at least one case with the husband's
collaboration and assistance. Therefore, interviews or questionnaires were
obtained for 378 of
403 men still alive (94%). The median age at interview was 32 years 3 months.
In general, success in tracing the men was achieved by persistence and
wide variety of different methods (Farrington et al, 1990). Searching in
and telephone directories, and visits to a man's presumed address, were
most successful tracing methods for the men who were not particularly elusive.
in the Criminal Record Office, National Health Service records, and
from other men were the most useful for the more elusive men. The key
in obtaining the men's co‑operation was probably the pleasantness of the
in the first face‑to‑face meeting.
Later Life Outcomes of Offenders
Generally, the Study males were less
antisocial at age 32 than at age 18. Most types of offending declined with
age, although binge‑drinking, drunk driving and the use of hard drugs
(heroin and cocaine) increased (Farrington, 1990a). While the Study males
became less deviant in absolute terms, those who were relatively more deviant
at age 18 still tended to be relatively more deviant at age 32. Therefore,
there was relative stability but absolute change. Between ages 18 and 32,
there was a decrease in aggressive and anti‑establishment attitudes and
in self‑reported impulsivity. Most of the men (76%) were living with a
wife or female cohabitee at age 32, and their job records had become much more
stable. These two factors of settling down with female partners and in stable
jobs seemed most plausible in explaining the decrease in offending.
men differed significantly from unconvicted ones at age 32 in most aspects of
their lives (Farrington, 1989b). Convicted men were less likely to be home
owners and more likely to be renting (usually from the local council), more
likely to have moved home frequently, more likely to be divorced or separated,
to be in conflict with their wife or cohabitee and to have assaulted her, and
more likely to be separated from a child. Convicted men were more likely to be
unemployed, had low take‑home pay, spent more evenings out per week,
were more likely to be involved in fights, heavy smokers, heavy drinkers,
drunk drivers, drug users and self‑reported offenders. Also, convicted
men were more likely to be identified as probable psychiatric cases on the
General Health Questionnaire (Goldberg, 1978), which detects
anxiety‑depressive types of mental illness, but this was a relatively
the convicted men who were persisters (those convicted both before and after
their 21st birthdays) were more deviant than desisters (those convicted only
before their 21st birthdays) or late‑comers to crime (those convicted
only after their 21st birthdays). For example, adult social dysfunction at age
32 was assessed on a 9‑point scale including quality of accommodation,
cohabitation history, success with children, employment history, fighting,
substance abuse, psychiatric disorder, and self‑reported and official
offending in the previous 5 years (Farrington et al, 1988b). A similar
composite measure was developed by Zoccolillo, Pickles, Quinton and Rutter
(1992). While 87% of unconvicted men were living quite successful lives
according to this composite measure, this was true of 67% of desisters, 59% of
late‑comers and only 44% of persisters (Farrington, 1989b). Even at age
32, the persisters tended to be significantly deviant in a variety of ways.
The Antisocial Personality Syndrome
In order to investigate the syndrome of
antisocial behaviour, composite measures of “antisocial personality” were
devised at ages 10, 14, 18 and 32, based on indicators of deviant behaviour at
each age (Farrington, 1991a). For
example, the measure of antisocial personality at age 18 included conviction,
self-reported delinquency, self-reported violence, antisocial group behaviour,
taking a prohibited drug, heavy smoking, heavy drinking, drunk driving,
irresponsible sex (having intercourse without using contraceptives), heavy
gambling, an unstable job record, anti-establishment attitudes, being
tattooed, and self-reported impulsivity (all referring to the 15-18 age
The antisociality scales at the four ages were all significantly
intercorrelated, showing the continuity in antisocial behaviour over time.
For example, the scales at ages 18 and 32 correlated .55, despite the
dramatic environmental changes in people's lives between these ages, as they
left the parental home, went through a period of residential instability and
then typically settled down with a wife or female cohabitee. Hence, the high
correlation probably reflects individual rather than environmental stability.
Over half (60%) of the most antisocial males at age 18 were still antisocial
at age 32, compared with only 14% of the remainder at age 18 who became
antisocial at age 32.
Before anyone was convicted, at age 8‑10, the future convicted
juvenile delinquents differed significantly from the nondelinquents in many
respects (and similar conclusions were obtained with self‑reported
delinquency). For example, the future convicted juvenile delinquents were more
likely than nondelinquents to have been rated troublesome and dishonest in
their primary schools; 45% of troublesome boys at age 8‑10 were
convicted as juveniles, compared with 14% of the remainder, giving an odds
ratio of 5.0. Convicted delinquents tended to be from poorer families, from
larger‑sized families, living in poor houses with neglected interiors,
supported by social agencies, and physically neglected by their parents.
However, they did not significantly tend to come from low socio‑economic
status families (as measured by the occupational prestige of the family
breadwinner) or to have working mothers. The delinquents were more likely to
have convicted parents and delinquent older siblings; less than 5% of the
families accounted for half of all the convictions of all family members. They
tended to be receiving poor parental child-rearing behaviour, characterized
by harsh or erratic parental discipline, cruel, passive, or neglecting
parental attitude, and parental conflict. Their parents tended to supervise
them poorly, being lax in enforcing rules or under‑vigilant (West &
Farrington, 1973; Farrington, 1992c).
to the 10th birthday, the future juvenile delinquents were more likely to have
experienced broken homes or separations from their parents for reasons other
than death or hospitalization. Their parents tended to be uncooperative
towards the research, endorsed authoritarian child‑rearing attitudes on
questionnaires, and were uninterested in the boy's education. Their mothers
tended to be nervous or in poor physical health, while their fathers tended to
have erratic job histories, including periods of unemployment. The boys who
became delinquents were more likely to have low intelligence and poor school
attainment and to be rated as daring by parents and peers. (Because
intelligence and attainment were highly related, they were difficult to
disentangle.) The boys' teachers said that they were hyperactive and had poor
concentration. Interestingly, hyperactivity at age 8‑10 predicted
juvenile convictions independently of conduct problems at age 8‑10
(Farrington, Loeber & Van Kammen, 1990). Delinquents tended to be
impulsive on psychomotor tests and personality questionnaires and unpopular
with their peers, but they were not nervous. They were likely to have
below‑average height and average weight (West & Farrington, 1973;
Similar results have been reported by many other researchers
(Farrington, 1995c). For example, Spivack, Marcus and Swift (1986) in
Philadelphia found that troublesome behaviour in kindergarten (age 3‑4)
predicted later delinquency. Lynam, Moffitt and Stouthamer‑Loeber (1993)
in Pittsburgh showed that low intelligence was correlated with delinquency
even after controlling for other variables such as social class and race.
Klinteberg, Andersson, Magnusson and Stattin (1993) in Sweden reported that
hyperactivity predicted later violent offending. Wilson (1980) in Birmingham
concluded that the most important correlate of convictions, cautions and
self‑reported delinquency was lax parental supervision at age 10, while
parental physical punishment at age 7 predicted later convictions in the
Nottingham study of Newson and Newson (1989).
(1979) in the National Survey found that boys from homes broken by divorce or
separation had an increased likelihood of being convicted or cautioned up to
the 21st birthday. In the Dunedin study in New Zealand, Henry et al. (1993) discovered that children who were exposed to parental
discord and many changes of the primary caretaker tended to become antisocial
and delinquent. McCord (1977) in Boston, and Robins, West and Herjanic (1975)
in St. Louis, reported that criminal fathers tended to have delinquent sons.
Numerous studies show that offenders tend to come from large‑sized
families (Wadsworth, 1979; Ouston, 1984; Kolvin, Miller, Fleeting & Kolvin
1988; Newson et al., 1993). However,
there is less agreement about the importance of socio‑economic status (Hindelang,
Hirschi & Weis, 1981).
age 14, when the boys were in their last year of compulsory schooling, the
differences between juvenile delinquents and nondelinquents were similar in
many respects to those found at age 8‑10. For example, the convicted
delinquents still tended to have cruel, passive, or neglecting parents who
were in conflict with each other, and they were still significantly low on
measures of intelligence and attainment. They were described by their teachers
as frequent liars, truants, daring, lacking in concentration or restless, and
they left school at the earliest possible age of 15. Special efforts were made
at age 14 to measure aggressiveness, and the delinquents proved to be
significantly aggressive according to self‑reports, teacher ratings, and
a semantic differential test. Also, the delinquents were likely to have
relatively many delinquent friends (West & Farrington, 1973; Farrington,
1992c), as other researchers have found (Elliott, Huizinga & Ageton,
The most important predictors, at age 8‑10, of
later delinquency (whether
by convictions or by self‑reports) fell into six categories of
Antisocial child behaviour, including troublesomeness in school,
dishonesty and aggressiveness.
Hyperactivity‑impulsivity‑attention deficit, including poor
restlessness, daring and
Low intelligence and poor school attainment.
Family criminality, including convicted parents, delinquent older
siblings, and siblings with behaviour problem.
(5) Family poverty, including low family income, large family size, and
(6) Poor parental child‑rearing behaviour, including harsh and
discipline, poor supervision,
parental conflict and separation from parents.
regression analyses, it was generally true that at least one factor from each
of these categories predicted offending independently of all the other
categories. Far more is known about main effects than about interaction
effects (Farrington, 1994c).
age 8‑10, the best independent predictors of official juvenile
delinquency (convictions between ages 10 and 16) were troublesomeness, daring,
dishonesty, a behaviour problem sibling, a convicted parent, and poor parental
child‑rearing behaviour (Farrington, 1995a). The best independent
predictors of convictions up to age 32 were troublesomeness, a convicted
parent, daring, low junior school attainment, poor housing and separation from
a parent (Farrington, 1990b). When measures of antisocial child behaviour were
excluded from the regression analyses in order to investigate explanatory
factors only, the best independent predictors of convictions up to age 32 were
large family size, a convicted parent, daring, poor housing, separation from a
parent, low junior school attainment and not having few friends (Farrington,
1993a); social isolation seemed to act as a protective factor against
was surprising how accurately offending could be predicted. For example, a
prediction scale was developed at age 8‑10 based on troublesome child
behaviour, economic deprivation, low intelligence, a convicted parent, and
poor parental child‑rearing techniques (Farrington, 1985). Of the 55
boys with the highest scores on this scale, 15 became chronic offenders up to
the 25th birthday (out of only 23 in the whole sample), 22 others were
convicted, and only 18 were unconvicted at that time. Hence, there were few
in crime after the 21st birthday, as opposed to desistance, was predicted
especially by heavy drinking at age 18 and by having a father who rarely
joined in the boy's leisure activities at age 12, as well as by unemployment
at age 16, low verbal IQ at age 8‑10 and not trying to do well at school
(Farrington & Hawkins, 1991). Convicted teenagers who were both unemployed
and heavy drinkers had an exceptionally high probability of persistence
(nearly 90%). The best independent predictors at age 8‑10 of the chronic
offenders up to age 32 were troublesomeness, a delinquent sibling, daring and
a convicted parent (Farrington & West, 1993).
late‑comers to crime after the 21st birthday were especially
characterized by unemployment at age 18, but they were also predicted by
economic deprivation, low attainment and impulsivity at age 8‑10 and by
high self‑reported delinquency at age 18. Numerous factors predicted
adult social dysfunction at age 32, but the best independent predictors were a
poor relationship with the parents at age 18, an unskilled manual job at age
18, no examinations taken by age 18, being nervous‑withdrawn at age 8,
small in height at age 14, hospital treatment for illness at age 16‑18,
poor concentration or restlessness at age 12‑14 and high neuroticism at
age 14 (Farrington, 1993a). Nervousness seemed to be negatively related to
offending but positively related to other types of social dysfunction.
most important predictors of antisocial personality at each age were also
investigated (Farrington, 1995b). For example, the best independent predictors
of antisociality at age 14 were antisociality at age 10, separation from a
parent up to age 10, low nonverbal IQ at age 8‑10, not having few
friends at age 8, and low junior school attainment. The best independent
predictors of antisociality at age 18 were antisociality at age 14, a
convicted parent at age 10, the father not joining in the boy's leisure
activities at age 12, an unemployed father at age 14, a poorly educated
father, leaving school at the earliest possible age of 15 and not having few
friends at age 8.
Effects of Life Events on Development
advantage of a longitudinal survey is that it is possible to investigate the
effects of specific life events on the course of development of delinquency,
by comparing before and after measures of offending and carrying out quasiexperimental
analyses using each subject as his own control (Farrington, 1988b). For
example, the effects on delinquent behaviour of being found guilty in court
were studied. If convictions have a deterrent or reformative effect, a
person's delinquent behaviour should decline after he is convicted. On the
other hand, if convictions have stigmatizing or contaminating effects, a
person's delinquent behaviour should increase after he is convicted.
hypotheses were tested by studying self‑reports of delinquency before
and after a boy was first convicted. It was found that boys who were first
convicted between ages 14 and 18 increased their self‑reported
delinquency afterwards, both in comparison with the level before and in
comparison with the offending of a carefully matched group of unconvicted boys
(Farrington, 1977). The same result was obtained in studying the effect of
first convictions occurring between ages 18 and 21 (Farrington, Osborn &
West, 1978). These results are concordant with Gold's (1970) findings in
Michigan. There was some indication that the increase in self‑reported
delinquency was related to the penalties given in court, although the numbers
were small. The most common penalties following a first conviction were fines
and discharges. There was no increase in self‑reported delinquency after
a fine but a big increase after a discharge, suggesting that the increased
delinquency may have been caused by a decrease in the boy's fear of a court
appearance after he was discharged.
effect on delinquency of going to different secondary schools was also
investigated (Farrington, 1972). At age 11, most of the boys went to one of 13
secondary schools. These schools differed dramatically in their official
delinquency rates, from one which had 20 court appearances per 100 boys per
year to another where the corresponding figure was only 0.3. The key issue was
whether the boys who went to high delinquency rate secondary schools became
more likely to offend as a result, or whether the differing delinquency rates
of the different secondary schools merely reflected differences in their
intakes of boys at age 11.
already mentioned, the best predictor of official juvenile delinquency in this
survey was the rating of child troublesomeness at age 8‑10 by teachers
and peers. Generally, the continuity between troublesomeness and delinquency
was not greatly affected by the kind of school to which a boy went. There was
a marked tendency
the more troublesome boys to go to the high delinquency rate secondary
schools, and the delinquency rates of different secondary schools largely
reflected their different intakes. In contrast to Rutter, Maughan, Mortimore
& Ouston (1979), who found
somewhat greater school effects, we concluded that the secondary schools themselves had little effect on delinquency.
investigation of the effect of a specific event on delinquency focused on
unemployment (Farrington et al, 1986). The complete job history of each boy
between leaving school at an average age of 15 and the interview at age 18 was
obtained, including all periods of unemployment. The key question was whether
the boys committed more offences (according to official records) during their
periods of unemployment than during their periods of employment.
results showed that the boys did indeed commit more offences while unemployed
than while employed. Furthermore, the difference was restricted to offences
involving financial gain, such as theft, burglary, robbery and fraud. There
was no effect of unemployment on other offences, such as violence, vandalism,
and drug use, suggesting that the boys committed more offences while they were
unemployed because they lacked money at these times. Furthermore, the effect
of unemployment only applied to those with the highest prediction scores for
crime, suggesting that unemployment had a criminogenic effect especially on
those boys with the greatest prior potential for offending.
event that was investigated was the effect of moving out of London (West,
1982). Most families who moved out were upwardly mobile families who were
moving to prosperous suburban areas in the Home Counties, often buying their
own houses rather than renting in London. It was clear that both official and
self‑reported delinquency of the men decreased after they or their
families moved out of London, possibly because of the effect of the move in
breaking up delinquent groups.
is often believed that marriage to a good woman is one of the best treatments
for male offending. When we asked our males in their twenties why they had
stopped offending, they often mentioned marriage and the influence of women,
as well as the fact that they did not hang around so much with delinquent
friends. The Study males were growing up in a time period when men and women
who wanted to live together usually got married. The effects of marriage were
initially studied by following both convictions and self‑reported
offending before and after early marriages (up to age 22). While the numbers
were small, there was some suggestion that marriage led to a decrease in
offending during the following two years, but only for offenders who married
unconvicted women. Those who married convicted women continued to offend at
the same rate after marriage as matched unmarried offenders (West, 1982).
Similarly, the men's fathers who married convicted women incurred more
convictions after marriage than those who married unconvicted women,
irrespective of their conviction records before marriage.
more detailed study of marriage up to age 32 (Farrington & West, 1995)
showed that, while convicted offenders were no more or less likely than
nonoffenders to get married, offenders were more likely to separate from their
wife and to conceive a child while unmarried. Regression analyses showed that
separation from a wife and conceiving a child outside marriage both predicted
later offending (between ages 27 and 32) independently of all other variables,
while an enduring marriage was negatively related to offending and seemed to
act as a protective factor. Before‑and‑after matching analyses
showed that getting married led to a decrease in offending compared with
remaining single (irrespective of whether a man married a convicted or
unconvicted woman), whereas separation from a wife led to an increase in
offending compared with staying married. These results are concordant with
those reported by Sampson and Laub (1993) in Massachusetts.
of the findings of this survey are probably not surprising to people who work
with offenders. Often, people are less interested in the continuity in
offending and antisocial behaviour than in discontinuity. For example, why do
some boys from criminogenic backgrounds nevertheless become successful
nonoffenders, and why do some boys from favourable backgrounds nevertheless
become antisocial offenders? We investigated good boys from bad backgrounds,
and searched for protective factors against delinquency.
one‑sixth of the boys (63) were identified as vulnerable at age
8‑10, because they possessed three out of five adverse background
features (low family income, large family size, convicted parents, poor
parental child‑rearing behaviour, and low nonverbal intelligence).
Three‑quarters of these vulnerable males were convicted of criminal
offences up to age 32, and the vulnerable males were also likely to be
identified as social failures at age 32 on the combined measure of living
circumstances and behaviour. We investigated whether the unconvicted quarter
of these boys were affected by any protective factors that might have helped
them to achieve successful life outcomes (Farrington et al, 1988b).
earlier research suggested that being nervous and withdrawn might act as a
protective factor in insulating vulnerable boys against juvenile delinquency
(West & Farrington, 1973). Similar tendencies were apparent in the latest
analyses up to age 32, but the effects were relatively weak. The most
important results were that boys with few or no friends at age 8, and those
without convicted parents or behaviour problem siblings at age 10, tended to
remain unconvicted; and that boys who were rated favourably by their mothers
at age 10 tended to be leading relatively successful lives at age 32. Of
course, it may be that the mothers accurately perceived who were the good boys
at age 10, rather than that an approving mother had a positive effect on a
boy's self‑concept. There was some evidence that shyness acted as a
protective factor for nonaggressive boys and as an aggravating factor for
problem with these analyses was that the unconvicted boys at age 32 were not
necessarily leading the most successful lives. We studied the characteristics
of unconvicted vulnerable men, convicted vulnerable men, unconvicted
nonvulnerable men and convicted nonvulnerable men at age 32 (Farrington et al,
1988a). Surprisingly, the unconvicted vulnerable men were often the most
unsuccessful, for example in not being home owners, in living in dirty home
conditions, in having large debts and in having low status, lowly paid jobs.
They were also the most likely of
these four groups to have never married, to have no wife or cohabitee, and to
be living alone. Also, they were the most likely to be in conflict with their
parents. However, they were generally well‑behaved, for example in not
taking drugs other than marijuana and in being least likely to commit offences.
Their good behaviour may be
connected with the fact they were also the most likely to stay
in every night.
For boys from vulnerable backgrounds, the most
protective factors against offending in our research were the avoidance of
contact with other boys in the neighbourhood, and the absence of convicted
fathers and delinquent siblings, who all may have exerted undesirable
influences. However, the unconvicted vulnerable
males at age 32 were not necessarily leading the most successful lives.
Their social isolation at age 8 seemed to lead to social isolation at age 32.
Research on Aggression, Bullying and Truancy
significant continuity between childhood aggression and adult violence
(Farrington, 1989a, 1991b), as other researchers have also reported (Eron
& Huesmann, 1990). Boys who were aggressive in childhood or adolescence
tended to be more deviant in adulthood: living in worse home circumstances,
more in conflict with and violent towards their wife or cohabitee, more likely
to be unemployed, heavier smokers and drinkers, more likely to be drunk
drivers and drug takers, and committing more offences (including violence).
This continuity, however, was probably not specific to aggression and violence
but was part of the general continuity in antisocial and deviant behaviour
from childhood to adulthood. This was why aggressive children had deviant life
styles 20 years later as adults.
The most important predictors of adolescent
aggression and adult violence tended to fall into the categories listed
earlier. For example, the best independent predictors at age 8‑10 of
convictions for violence up to age 32 were a low parental interest in
education, daring, authoritarian parents, a convicted parent, low verbal
intelligence and harsh parental discipline. The best independent predictors up
to age 18 of self‑reported violence (involvement in fights) at age 32
were antisociality at age 18, the father rarely joining in the boy's leisure
activities at age 12, no money saved at age 18, antisocial group membership at
age 18, daring at age 8‑10, and a hostile attitude to the police at age
16 (Farrington, 1989a).
Conclusions drawn from these predictive analyses of
aggression and violence were similar to those drawn about the prediction of
delinquency and frequent offending. This further confirmed the argument put
forward by West and Farrington (1977) that aggression was merely one element
of a more general antisocial tendency, which arose in childhood and continued
through the teenage and adult years. Violent offenders were very similar to
nonviolent frequent offenders in childhood, adolescent, and adult features
(Farrington, 1991b), suggesting that the causes of aggression and violence
were essentially the same as the causes of persistent and extreme antisocial,
delinquent and criminal behaviour.
The predictors of football violence at age 18 and
violence against spouses and cohabitees at age 32 were also investigated
(Farrington, 1994a). The best predictors of football violence were being
relatively small, having a father who was not interested in the boy, not
attending church, not being nervous, leaving school early and having
authoritarian parents. Speculatively, relatively small boys whose fathers pay
little attention to them might try to compensate for these handicaps by
showing off and being aggressive in football crowds, especially if they are
not inhibited by nervousness or religious beliefs. The best predictors of
spouse assault were having a convicted parent, unpopularity, daring,
separation from a parent and low intelligence. There seemed to be a link
between experiencing parental disharmony and early separation from a parent in
childhood, difficulties in relationships with peen and parents, and later
difficulties in relationships with spouses and cohabitees. Teenage violence
tended to develop into later spouse assault, but particularly for those
aggressive males who had long‑lasting difficulties in their
relationships with other people.
on bullying (Farrington, 1993d) shows continuity both within and between
generations. There was a significant tendency for the males who reported that
they were bullies at age 14 also to report that they were bullies at age 32
and that their children were bullies when the males were age 32. In addition
to being bullies themselves, the men who had children who were bullies tended
to be poor readers, heavy gamblers and unpopular in their teenage years, and
they tended to have authoritarian parents. The men were also asked at age 32
about whether their children were victims of bullying. Those who had children
who were victims tended to be those who had been unpopular and had few friends
at age 8‑10, and those who were nervous and regular smokers at age 14.
Knowing that these factors are associated with being bullied, it seemed likely
that there was intergenerational continuity in being bullied as well as in
bullying (see also Olweus, 1994).
on truancy (Farrington, 1980, 1995a) shows that primary school truants at age
8‑10 tended to become secondary school truants at age 12‑14. The
best independent predictors, at age 8‑10, of secondary school truancy
were troublesomeness, a behaviour problem sibling, a nervous or
psychiatrically treated father, low nonverbal intelligence, separation from a
parent, low parental interest in the boy's education, low school attainment
and daring. Generally, truants and delinquents were similar in childhood,
adolescent and adult features, but the most important difference was that
nervousness was positively related to truancy but negatively related to
delinquency. This suggested that, for some children, truancy was a behavioural
symptom of a nervous‑withdrawn temperament rather than of an antisocial
personality, thus confirming the distinction between truancy and school
refusal (Boots, Foster, Brown & Berg, 1990).
the Development of Delinquency
There is far more agreement about risk factors than
about their theoretical interpretation. The major risk factors for delinquency
include poverty, poor housing, and living in public housing in inner city,
socially disorganized communities (Farrington, 1995c). They also include poor
parental child‑rearing techniques, such as poor supervision, harsh or
erratic discipline, parental conflict, and separation from a biological
parent. They also include impulsivity and low intelligence or attainment
(which may reflect a poor ability to manipulate abstract concepts and deficits
in the "executive functions" of the brain). It seems likely that
communities influence parenting, and that parenting influences the development
of impulsivity and low intelligence, which in turn are conducive to
delinquency (Farrington, 1993b).
risk factors may be linked to poverty, poor parenting, impulsivity or
intelligence. For example, teenage mothers tend to live in poverty, tend to
use poor child‑rearing techniques, and tend to have impulsive children
with low intelligence (Morash & Rucker, 1989). Perinatal complications, in
combination with other risk factors, may cause neurological dysfunction, which
in turn causes impulsivity or low intelligence (Kandel & Mednick, 1991).
Large family size may lead to poor parenting, because of the problem of
dividing attention between several children at once. Convicted parents may be
poor supervisors of children and disproportionally separated from their
spouses, or alternatively there may be genetic transmission of a biological
factor linked to offending (Di Lalla & Gottesman, 1991).
The links between delinquent friends, delinquent schools and offending are
less clear, but may involve learning from deviant models. It is also likely
that the occurrence of offences depends on situational factors such as
perceived costs, benefits and opportunities (Clarke & Cornish, 1985).
is important to establish which factors predict delinquency independently of
other factors. Based on the independent predictors in the Cambridge Study, it
might be suggested that impulsivity, low intelligence or attainment, poor
parenting, an antisocial family and poverty, despite their
inter‑relations, all contribute in some way to the development of
offending. In addition, of course, there is significant continuity in
offending and antisocial behaviour from childhood to adulthood, even though
the prevalence of offending peaks in the teenage years. Any theory needs to
give priority to explaining these results.
theory of delinquency and antisocial behaviour (Farrington, 1986b, 1992b,
1993c) was designed to explain offending by working‑class males. It
distinguishes explicitly between the long‑term development of antisocial
tendency and the immediate occurrence of offences and other antisocial acts.
The level of antisocial tendency depends on energizing, directing and
inhibiting processes. The occurrence of offences and other antisocial acts
depends on the interaction between the individual (with a certain degree of
antisocial tendency) and the social environment, and on a
decision‑making process in criminal opportunities.
is proposed that the main energizing factors that ultimately lead to
long‑term, between‑individual variations in antisocial tendency
are desires for material goods, status among intimates, and excitement. The
main energizing factors that lead to short‑term, within‑individual
variations in antisocial tendency are boredom, frustration, anger and alcohol
consumption. The desire for excitement may be greater among children from
poorer families, perhaps because excitement is more highly valued by
lower‑class people than by middle‑class ones, because poorer
children think they lead more boring lives, or because poorer children are
less able to postpone immediate gratification in favour of long‑term
goals (which could be linked to the emphasis in lower‑class culture on
the concrete and present as opposed to the abstract and future).
the directing stage, these motivations lead to an increase in antisocial
tendency if socially disapproved methods of satisfying them are habitually
chosen. The methods chosen depend on maturation and behavioural skills; for
example, a 5‑year‑old would have difficulty stealing a car. Some
people (e.g. children from poorer families) are less able to satisfy their
desires for material goods, excitement and social status by legal or socially
approved methods, and so tend to choose illegal or socially disapproved
methods. The relative inability of poorer children to achieve their goals by
legitimate methods could be because they tend to fail in school and tend to
have erratic, low status employment histories. School failure in turn may
often be a consequence of the unstimulating intellectual environment that
lower‑class parents tend to provide for their children, and their lack
of emphasis on abstract concepts.
the inhibiting stage, antisocial tendencies can be reduced by internalized
beliefs and attitudes that have been built up in a social learning process as
a result of a history of rewards and punishments. The belief that offending is
wrong, or a strong conscience, tends to be built up if parents are in favour
of legal norms, if they exercise close supervision over their children, and if
they punish socially disapproved behaviour using love‑oriented
discipline. Antisocial tendency can also be inhibited by empathy, which may
develop as a result of parental warmth and loving relationships. There are
individual differences in the development of these internal inhibitions.
Perhaps because of associated neurological dysfunctions, children with high
impulsivity and low intelligence are less able to build up internal
inhibitions against offending, and therefore, tend to have a high level of
level of antisocial tendency can also be increased in a social learning
process if children are surrounded by antisocial models (criminal parents and
siblings, delinquent peers, in delinquent schools and criminal areas). The
belief that offending is legitimate, and anti‑establishment attitudes
generally, tend to be built up if children have been exposed to attitudes and
behaviour favouring offending (e.g. in a modelling process), especially by
members of their family, by their friends, and in their communities.
the decision‑making stage, which specifies the interaction between the
individual and the environment, whether a person with a certain degree of
antisocial tendency commits an antisocial act in a given situation depends on
opportunities, costs and benefits, and on the subjective probabilities of the
different outcomes. The costs and benefits include immediate situational
factors such as the material goods that can be stolen and the likelihood and
consequences of being caught by the police, as perceived by the individual.
They also include social factors such as likely disapproval by parents or
spouses, and encouragement or reinforcement from peers. In general, people
tend to make rational decisions. However, more impulsive people are less
likely to consider the possible consequences of their actions, especially
consequences that are likely to be long delayed.
consequences of offending may, as a result of a learning process, lead to
changes in antisocial tendency or in the cost‑benefit calculation. This
is especially likely if the consequences are reinforcing (e.g. gaining
material goods or peer approval) or punishing (e.g. legal sanctions or
parental disapproval). Also, if the consequences involve labelling or
stigmatizing the offender, this may make it more difficult for him to achieve
his aims legally, and hence there may be an increase in his antisocial
tendency. In other words, events that occur after offending may lead
to changes in energizing, directing, inhibiting or decision‑making
processes in a dynamic system.
the theory to explain some of the results reviewed here, children from poorer
families may be likely to offend because they are less able to achieve their
goals legally and because they value some goals (e.g. excitement) especially
highly. Children with low intelligence may be more likely to offend because
they tend to fail in school and
hence cannot achieve their goals legally. Impulsive children, and those with a
poor ability to manipulate abstract concepts, may be more likely to offend
because they do not give sufficient consideration and weight to the possible
consequences of offending. Also, children with low intelligence and high
impulsivity are less able to build up internal inhibitions against offending.
who are exposed to poor parental child rearing behaviour, disharmony or
separation may be more likely to offend because they do not build up internal
inhibitions against socially disapproved behaviour, while children from
criminal families and those with delinquent friends tend to build up
anti‑establishment attitudes and the belief that offending is
justifiable. The whole process is self perpetuating, in that poverty, low
intelligence, and early school failure, lead to truancy and a lack of
educational qualifications, which in turn lead to low status jobs and periods
of unemployment, both of which make it harder to achieve goals legitimately.
of the Study
Cambridge Study provides information about the development of delinquency and
antisocial behaviour in an inner‑city, working‑class British white
male sample born about 1953. How far the same results would be obtained with
females, Afro-Caribbean or Asian children, suburban or rural children,
middle or upper‑class children, children born more recently, or children
born in other countries are interesting empirical questions. Generally,
results obtained with the Cambridge Study are similar to those obtained with
comparable male samples from Sweden (Farrington & Wikstrom, 1994), Finland
(Pulkkinen, 1988) and from other Western industrialized countries, but more
replications would be desirable. In particular, new longitudinal studies
should be mounted in England, to investigate the effect of social changes such
as the increased number of one‑parent families, and delinquent
development in different ethnic groups. No new English studies on the
development of delinquency have been mounted for many years.
Cambridge Study inevitably has the usual methodological problems of
longitudinal surveys. While the problem of attrition was largely overcome, the
problem of testing effects (the effects on the subjects of repeated
interviews) was not investigated. In retrospect, other boys from the same
schools, who were not interviewed, should have been followed up in records to
control for testing effects, but this was not a feature of the initial design
(Farrington & West, 1981, p. 139).
some of the initial measures now appear rather old‑fashioned. For
example, the method of measuring parenting variables (relying on psychiatric
social workers interviewing parents) caused problems, and great efforts had to
be made to try to achieve consistency and objectivity. While the main aim was
to measure all relevant variables, the measurements of biological and
neighbourhood variables and of psychiatric conditions were clearly inadequate,
and the measurement of individual factors also left a lot to be desired in
retrospect. Because we did not include a behaviour genetic design (e.g.
studying twins or adopted children), we cannot investigate how much of the
link between poor parenting and behaviour was mediated by genetic factors.
Because of the focus on English personality questionnaires, key constructs
such as empathy, egocentricity, guilt and depression were not measured. The
attempts to study protective factors may have been inadequate, because far
more was known about risk factors, and hence the measurement and analyses
focussed on risk factors.
checks were made where possible to compare interview data with external
information from records. For example, admissions of convictions were compared
with criminal records of convictions, and the mother's report of the boy's
birth weight was compared with hospital records. Reliability checks were also
made. For example, information about the same topic (e.g. school leaving age)
from different interviews was compared, as was information about the same
topic from different parts of the same interview. Generally, the men were
randomly allocated between our two or three interviewers in order to study
interviewer effects, which were rare. Sometimes, information could be tested
for predictive validity. For example, more than twice as many of those who
said that they had sexual intercourse without using contraceptives at age 18
subsequently conceived a child outside marriage as of the remainder
(Farrington & West, 1995). All of these checks suggested that our subjects
were genuinely trying to tell the truth. Of course, more validity checks would
have been desirable, but these would have required more access to external
records than we could achieve.
sample was too small to study rare events, such as sex offenders or perinatal
complications, effectively. The interviews were too infrequent to establish
the exact or relative timing of many life events, and hence to establish
developmental sequences between presumed causes and observed effects. The lack
of experimental interventions made it difficult to test causal models
effectively. The single cohort design made it difficult to distinguish between
aging and period effects; for example, between ages 14 and 18 the percentage
who had taken drugs increased from less than 1 % to 31 %, but this was
probably a function of the time period (from 1967 to 1971).
order to overcome these kinds of problems, it would be highly desirable in
future longitudinal studies of delinquency to include multiple age cohorts and
experimental interventions, to begin prenatally with one cohort, and to have
more frequent interviews and larger samples (Farrington, 1991c; Farrington,
Ohlin & Wilson, 1986; Tonry, Ohlin & Farrington, 1991). However,
because ideal designs cost a great deal of money, more limited compromise
designs like the Cambridge Study are likely to predominate in the foreseeable
major policy implication of the Cambridge Study is that, in order to reduce
delinquency and antisocial behaviour, early prevention experiments are needed
that target four important risk factors: low intelligence/attainment, poor
parental child‑rearing behaviour, impulsivity and poverty (Farrington,
1994b). To the extent that these experiments lead to reductions in offending,
this will increase our confidence that these risk factors have causal effects
or are part of causal chains leading to offending.
experiments on offending and antisocial behaviour have been reviewed by Gordon
and Arbuthnot (1987), Kazdin (1985,1987) and McCord and Tremblay (1992). I
will focus on randomized experiments with reasonably large samples and with
outcome measures of offending, since the effect of any intervention on
offending can be demonstrated most convincingly in such experiments
(Farrington, 1983; Farrington, Ohlin & Wilson, 1986). Many interesting
experiments are not randomized (Jones & Offord, 1989), or do not have
outcome measures of offending (Kazdin, Esveldt‑Dawson, French &
Unis, 1987; Kazdin, Bass, Siegel & Thomas, 1989), or are based on very
small samples (Shore & Massimo, 1979). It must be admitted that the
experiments reviewed here provide glimmers of hope rather than a convincing
basis for large‑scale social policy.
is difficult to know how and when it is best to intervene, because of the lack
of knowledge about developmental sequences, ages at which causal factors are
most salient, and influences on onset, persistence and desistance. For
example, if truancy leads to delinquency in a developmental sequence,
intervening successfully to decrease truancy should lead to a decrease in
delinquency. On the other hand, if truancy and delinquency are merely
different behavioural manifestations of the same underlying construct,
tackling one symptom would not necessarily change the underlying construct.
Experiments are useful in distinguishing between developmental sequences and
symptoms, and indeed, Berg, Hullin and McGuire (1979) found experimentally
that decreases in truancy were followed by decreases in delinquency.
ideas of early intervention and preventive treatment raise numerous
theoretical, practical, ethical and legal issues. For example, should
prevention techniques be targeted narrowly on children identified as potential
delinquents or more widely on all children living in a certain high‑risk
area (e.g. a deprived housing estate)? It would be most efficient to target
the children who are most in need of the treatment. Also, some treatments may
be ineffective if they are targeted widely, if they depend on raising the
level of those at the "bottom of the heap" relative to everyone
else. However, targeting potential delinquents may lead to damaging publicity
and a refusal to cooperate. The most extreme group may also be the most
resistant to treatment or difficult to engage, so there may be a greater
pay‑off from targeting those who are not quite the most in need. Also,
it might be argued that early identification could have undesirable labelling
or stigmatizing effects, although the most extreme cases are likely to be
stigmatized anyway and there is no evidence that identification for preventive
treatment in itself is damaging. The degree of stigmatization, if any, is
likely to depend on the nature of the treatment. In order to gain political
acceptance, it may be best to target areas rather than individuals.
ethical issues raised by early intervention depend on the level of predictive
accuracy and might perhaps be resolved by weighing the social costs against
the social benefits. In the Cambridge Study, as already mentioned,
three‑quarters of vulnerable boys identified at age 10 were convicted up
to age 32. It might be argued that, if preventive treatment had been applied
to these boys, the one‑quarter who were "false positives"
would have been treated unnecessarily. However, if the treatment consisted of
extra welfare benefits to families, and if it was effective in reducing the
offending of the other three‑quarters, the benefits might outweigh the
costs and early identification might be justifiable. In any case, since the
vulnerable boys who were not convicted had other types of problems, such as
social isolation, even these boys might have needed and benefited from some
kind of preventive treatment designed to alleviate their problems. Blumstein,
Farrington and Moitra (1985) developed an explicit method of taking social
costs and benefits into account in prediction exercises.
If low intelligence and school failure are causes of offending, then
any programme that leads to an increase in school success should lead to a
decrease in offending. One of the most successful delinquency prevention
programmes has been the Perry pre‑school project carried out in
Ypsilanti (Michigan) by Schweinhart and Weikart (1980). This was essentially a
"Head Start" programme targeted on disadvantaged
African‑American children, who were allocated (approximately at random)
to experimental and control groups. The experimental children attended a daily
pre‑school programme, backed up by weekly home visits, usually lasting
two years (covering ages 3‑4). The aim of the programme was to provide
intellectual stimulation, to increase cognitive abilities, and to increase
later school achievement.
120 children in the two groups were followed up to age 15, using teacher
ratings, parent and youth interviews, and school records. As demonstrated in
several other Head Start projects, the experimental group showed gains in
intelligence that were rather short‑lived. However, they were
significantly better in elementary school motivation, school achievement at
14, teacher ratings of classroom behaviour at 6‑9, self‑reports of
classroom behaviour at 15 and self-reports of offending at 15. Furthermore,
a later follow‑up of this sample by Berrueta-Clement et al (1984)
showed that, at age 19, the experimental group was more likely to be employed,
more likely to have graduated from high school, more likely to have received
college or vocational training, and less likely to have been arrested.
age 27, the experimental group had accumulated only half as many arrests on
average as the controls (Schweinhart, Barnes & Weikart, 1993). Also, they
had significantly higher earnings and were more likely to be
home‑owners. More of the experimental females were married, and fewer of
their children had been born out of wedlock. Hence, this pre‑school
intellectual enrichment programme led to decreases in school failure, to
decreases in offending, and to decreases in other undesirable outcome.
The Perry project is admittedly only one study based on
relatively small numbers. However, its results become more compelling when
viewed in the context of 10 other similar American Head Start projects
followed up by the Consortium for Longitudinal Studies (1983) and other
pre‑school programmes such as the Carolina Abercedarian Project, which
began at age 3 months (Horacek et al, 1987).
With quite impressive consistency, all studies show that pre‑school
intellectual enrichment programmes have long‑term beneficial effects on
school success, especially in increasing the rate of high school graduation
and decreasing the rate of special education placements. The Perry project was
the only one to study offending, but the consistency of the school success
results in all projects suggests that the effects on offending might be
parental supervision and erratic child rearing behaviour are causes of
delinquency, it seems likely that parent training might succeed in reducing
offending. Many different types of family therapy have been used (Kazdin,
1987; Tolan, Cromwell & Brasswell, 1986), but the behavioural parent
management training developed by Patterson (1982) in Oregon is one of the most
hopeful approaches. His careful observations of parent‑child interaction
showed that parents of antisocial children were deficient in their methods of
child rearing. These parents failed to tell their children how they were
expected to behave, failed to monitor the behaviour to ensure that it was
desirable, and failed to enforce rules promptly and unambiguously with
appropriate rewards and penalties. The parents of antisocial children used
more punishment (such as scolding, shouting or threatening), but failed to
make it contingent on the child's behaviour.
Patterson attempted to train these parents in
effective child rearing methods, namely noticing what the child is doing,
monitoring behaviour over long periods, clearly stating house rules, making
rewards and punishments contingent on behaviour, and negotiating disagreements
so that conflicts and crises did not escalate. His treatment was shown to be
effective in reducing child stealing and antisocial behaviour over short
periods in small‑scale studies (Dishion, Patterson & Kavanagh, 1992;
Patterson, Chamberlain & Reid, 1982; Patterson, Reid & Dishion, 1992).
Another parenting intervention, termed functional
family therapy, was evaluated by Alexander and his colleagues (Alexander &
Parsons, 1973; Alexander, Barton, Schiavo & Parsons, 1976; Klein,
Alexander & Parsons, 1977). This aimed to modify patterns of family
interaction by modelling, prompting and reinforcement, to encourage clear
communication between family members of requests and solutions, and to
minimize conflict. Essentially, all family members were trained to negotiate
effectively, to set clear rules about privileges and responsibilities, and to
use techniques of reciprocal reinforcement with each other. This technique
halved the recidivism rate of minor offenders in comparison with other
approaches (client-centred or psychodynamic therapy). Its effectiveness with
more serious offenders was confirmed in a replication study using matched
groups (Barton et al, 1985).
might be decreased using the set of techniques variously termed
cognitive‑behavioural interpersonal skills training, which have proved
to be quite successful (e.g. Michelson, 1987). For example, the methods used
by Ross to treat juvenile delinquents (Ross, Fabiano & Ewles, 1988; Ross
& Ross, 1988) were solidly based on some of the known individual
characteristics of offenders: impulsivity, concrete rather than abstract
thinking, low empathy and egocentricity.
believed that delinquents could be taught the cognitive skills in which they
were deficient, and that this could lead to a decrease in their offending. His
reviews of delinquency rehabilitation programmes (Gendreau & Ross,
1979,1987) showed that those which were successful in reducing offending
generally tried to change the offender's thinking. Ross carried out his own
"Reasoning and Rehabilitation" programme in Ottawa, Canada, and
found (in a randomized experiment) that it led to a significant (74%) decrease
in reoffending for a small sample in a short 9‑month follow‑up
period. His training was carried out by probation officers, but he believed
that it could be carried out by parents or teachers.
Ross' programme aimed to modify the impulsive,
egocentric thinking of delinquents, to teach them to stop and think before
acting, to consider the consequences of their behaviour, to conceptualize
alternative ways of solving interpersonal problems, and to consider the impact
of their behaviour on other people, especially their victims. It included
social skills training, lateral thinking (to teach creative problem solving),
critical thinking (to teach logical reasoning), values education (to teach
values and concern for others), assertiveness training (to teach
nonaggressive, socially appropriate ways to obtain desired outcomes),
negotiation skills training, interpersonal cognitive problem‑solving (to
teach thinking skills for solving interpersonal problems), social perspective
training (to teach how to recognize and understand other people's feelings),
role‑playing and modelling (demonstration and practice of effective and
acceptable interpersonal behaviour).
poverty causes offending, then providing increased economic resources for the
more deprived families should lead to a decrease in offending by their
children. The major problem is to identify the active ingredient to be
targeted. Low income and poor housing are inter‑related, but the causal
chain linking these factors with offending is unclear. Experiments are needed
which target each of these factors separately. It seems likely that relative
rather than absolute income and housing quality are important, since there
have been great improvements in recent years in average living standards.
most relevant studies may be the income maintenance experiments carried out in
the United States, which provided extra income for poor families. However, the
only evaluation of the effect of income maintenance on children's delinquency
(Groeneveld, Short & Thoits, 1979) did not yield positive results. There
were no significant differences between the experimental and control groups in
the later official offending records of children who were aged 9‑12 at
the time of the treatment. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that extra
welfare benefits given to ex‑prisoners can in some instances lead to a
decrease in their offending (Rossi, Berk
& Lenihan, 1980). In light of the clear link between poverty and
antisocial behaviour, it is surprising that more prevention experiments
targeting this factor have not been conducted.
Interventions to Prevent Offending
combination of interventions may be more effective than a single method,
although combining interventions makes it harder to identify the active
ingredient. As an example, Kazdin, Siegel and Bass (1992) found that a
combination of parent management training and problem solving skills training
was more effective in reducing self‑reported delinquency than either
especially important combined prevention experiment was carried out in Seattle
by Hawkins and his colleagues (Hawkins, Von Cleve & Catalano, 1991;
Hawkins et al., 1992). This combined
parent training, teacher training and skills training. About 500 first grade
children (aged 6) in 21 classes in eight schools were randomly assigned to be
in experimental or control classes. The children in the experimental classes
received special treatment at home and school which was designed to increase
their attachment to their parents and their bonding to the school, on the
assumption that offending was inhibited by the strength of social bonds. Their
parents were trained to notice and reinforce socially desirable behaviour in a
programme called "Catch them being good". Their teachers were
trained in classroom management, for example to provide clear instructions and
expectations to children, to reward children for participation in desired
behaviour, and to teach children prosocial methods of solving problems
(Hawkins, Doueck & Lishner, 1988).
an evaluation of this programme 18 months later, when the children were in
different classes, Hawkins et al. (1991) found that the boys who received the
experimental programme were significantly less aggressive than the control
boys, according to teacher ratings. This difference was particularly marked
for Caucasian boys rather than African‑American bur. The experimental
girls were not significantly less aggressive, but they were less
self‑destructive, anxious and depressed. Importantly, by the fifth
grade, the experimental children were less likely to have initiated
delinquency and alcohol use.
Another important combined experiment was carried out in Montreal by
Tremblay and his colleagues (1991, 1992). They identified about 250 disruptive
(aggressive/hyperactive) boys at age 6. Between ages 7 and 9, the experimental
group received training to foster social skills and self‑control.
Coaching, peer modelling, role playing and reinforcement contingencies were
used in small group sessions on such topics as "how to help",
"what to do when you are angry" and "how to react to
teasing". Also, their parents were trained using the parent management
training techniques developed by Patterson (1982). Generally, this prevention
programme was quite successful. By age 12, the experimental boys committed
less burglary and theft, were less likely to get drunk, and were less likely
to be involved in fights than the controls. Also, the experimental boys were
higher in school achievement. Interestingly, the differences in antisocial
behaviour between experimental and control boys increased as the
Cambridge Study shows that the types of acts that lead to convictions
(principally, crimes of dishonesty) are components of a larger syndrome of
antisocial or deviant behaviour. Generally, males are versatile rather than
specialized in their delinquency and antisocial behaviour. The high degree of
continuity between ages 18 and 32, during a period of enormous environmental
change, suggests that stability lies in the individual rather than in the
environment. Our conclusion is that there are individual differences between
people in some general underlying theoretical construct which might be termed
"antisocial tendency", which is relatively stable from childhood to
there is relative stability but absolute change in antisocial behaviour.
Offending may increase or decrease over time, but the worst offenders at one
age still tend to be the worst at another age. Changes in the social
environment inevitably lead to age‑appropriate changes in the
behavioural manifestations of the underlying construct. For example, adults
cannot truant from school, just as juveniles cannot hit their spouses. While
the relative position of individuals on this underlying dimension is
sufficiently stable to allow significant prediction from age 8 to age 32, the
stability should not be exaggerated. Significant predictability does not mean
that outcomes are inevitable or that people cannot and do not change. The good
news is that most juvenile delinquents are leading quite successful lives by
the age of 32.
Cambridge Study also shows how far delinquency can be predicted in advance, in
childhood. Previous projects did not measure such a wide range of theoretical
constructs in advance of offending, and so they were not able to show so
effectively which variables predicted delinquency independently of others or
the relative importance of different variables. The most important independent
childhood predictors of delinquency in this research could be grouped under
the headings of antisocial child behaviour, impulsivity, low intelligence or
attainment, family criminality, poverty and poor parental child‑rearing
Study also shows how far convicted offenders and unconvicted males were
significantly different in numerous respects before, during and after their
criminal careers. Furthermore, differences between convicted offenders and
unconvicted males were similar to differences between high and low
self‑reported delinquents, where boys in the high category were more
frequent, serious and versatile offenders. Previously, it was argued that
everyone committed delinquent acts and that differences between convicted and
unconvicted males largely reflected police or court biases, but this view can
be firmly rejected. The concordance between official records and
self‑reports, and the ability of self‑reports to predict future
convictions, shows that both measures are validly detecting the worst
Study provides detailed information about criminal careers and
co‑offending, and shows how far offending is concentrated in certain
persons and certain families. A small number of chronic offenders, usually
coming from multi‑problem families, accounted for substantial
proportions of all official and self‑reported offences, and they were to
a considerable extent predictable in advance. The fact that a large
proportion of the crime problem is attributable to a small number of
persons and families who are identifiable is potentially good news for
prevention and treatment.
Study also shows the importance of within‑individual analyses, in
documenting the effects of life events on the course of development of
offending. In particular, the Study provides perhaps the most detailed
quantitative information about factors influencing desistance: being employed
as opposed to unemployed, getting married and staying married, and moving out
of London. It also shows that desistance from offending generally coincides
with an improvement in other life circumstances.
main policy implication of the Cambridge Study is that, in order to reduce
offending and antisocial behaviour, early prevention experiments are needed
targeting four important predictors that may be both causal and modifiable:
low attainment, poor parental child‑rearing behaviour, impulsivity and
poverty. There are hopeful results from existing small‑scale prevention
experiments suggesting that improving the first three of these factors, at
least, leads to reductions in offending. If larger‑scale experiments are
similarly successful, the prevention measures should be implemented more
widely by governmental agencies.
Cambridge Study has influenced the thinking of the British government about
crime policy. Certainly, between 1990 and 1992, it influenced Home Secretary
Kenneth Baker and his junior minister John Patten, who drafted out a Green
Paper on early prevention in 1992 that drew on the Study's conclusions. In
1989, John Patten stated that:
important study has been influential both in this country and in the United
States. It bears out much of the Home Office's current thinking about juvenile
crime. It is an excellent example of how academic work, funded by government,
can help in policy‑making ... I will be examining Dr. Farrington's
conclusions, and their pointers toward future action, very fully indeed (Rock,
1994, p. 153).
documenting the development of early prevention ideas in the Home Office in
1990‑92, Rock (1994) reported that:
was one article [Farrington & West, 1990] that circulated about the [Home]
Office at just that time, an article that had again made out the case for
using longitudinal studies to predict and control delinquency, and for social
prevention experiments to prevent the development of crime and antisocial
behaviour ... An official remarked of Farrington's influence: "There is a
theory for a particular time and maybe what he is saying is just one of the
things that particularly suit at the moment". (Rock, 1994, p. 150).
because of the 1992 general election and the change of Home Secretary from
Kenneth Baker to Kenneth Clarke, the Green Paper was not published, but the
policy ideas contained in it may yet reappear in another Home Office document.
of the link between delinquency and numerous other social problems, any
measure that succeeds in reducing crime will probably have benefits that go
far beyond this. Early prevention that reduces delinquency will probably also
reduce drinking, drunk driving, drug use, sexual promiscuity and family
violence, and perhaps also school failure, unemployment and marital
disharmony. Social problems are undoubtedly influenced by environmental as
well as individual factors. However, to the extent that all of these problems
reflect an underlying antisocial tendency, they could all decrease together.
It is clear from our research that antisocial children tend to grow up into
antisocial adults, and that antisocial adults tend to produce antisocial
children. Sooner or later, serious efforts, firmly grounded on empirical
research results, such as those obtained in the Cambridge Study, must be made
to break this cycle.
Acknowledgments‑-I am very grateful to Professor Donald West for helpful comments
on an earlier version of this paper and for his inspiring work on the
Cambridge Study. I am also indebted to the Home Office for continued financial
support of this project and to Maureen Brown for her speedy and accurate
typing of this paper.
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