Farrington et al (1994) Disrupted Families

Farrington et al,. (1994) – ‘Criminal careers and life success: new findings from the Cambridge study in Delinquent Development,’ Home Office Findings 281.




This is the first study we will be looking at from the ‘Upbringing’ section of Turning to Crime, as part of your OCR A2 Forensic Psychology course. It is further categorised into ‘Disrupted Families.

Why do people become criminals? Are criminals inartistically different to law-abiding citizens? One reason may be due to the upbringing  of those individuals who turn to crime. Large families, neglect, parental relationships, conflict and the style of parental discipline may have adverse effects upon the young, which may lead them to crime. For example, if parents are inconsistent with their discipline, that is, not consistently punishing behaviour with sanctions of equal value, then the child may learn to disregard the rules as transcending them does not always yield punishment, thus leading to crime in later life. John Bowlby (1907-1990) theorised that maternal deprivation of the child may lead to dysfunctional delinquency in later life.

Farrington et al,. (1994) focuses on the relationship between the family and crime.


Farrington et al,. (1994) had three aims:

  1. To document the start, durations and end of offending behaviour from childhood to adulthood in families.
  2. To investigate influence of life events and family background.
  3. To identify the risk and factors predicting offending and antisocial behaviour.

Farrington et al,. (1994) used a longitudinal survey, which lasted for 40 years. Data was gathered via interviews with participants


411 boys (born: 1953/54: aged 8-9) – from six state schools in South London.

Mainly white working class boys.

40 years later 394 of the original sample was still alive, however only 365 were interviewed (sample attrition rate: 11.2%).


At age 48, of 404 (some of whom were deceased) individuals searched in for a criminal record, 161 had convictions.

If the boys committed crimes between the ages 10-13, reoffending rates were 9/10; with  91% having more than one conviction.

Interestingly, self-reported crime not covered by the Official Statistics , that is, they were not caught or convicted, show that 93% percent of the sample claimed to have committed at least one offence during their lives.

Farrington terms those who were convicted both before and after their 21st birthday as ‘persisters’. These ‘persisters’ were largely found to have shared common childhood characteristics.

A positive correlation was found between those who have a convicted parent and the ‘persisters’. Whilst those who had parents who were not convicted were far less likely to be involved in crime themselves.

The ‘persisters’ were found to typically be highly daring, had a delinquent sibling, a young mother, low popularity, a disrupted and large family.


The most important risk factors are:

  • Criminality of the parents and other members in the family
  • Poverty
  • Impulsiveness
  • Poor child rearing
  • Poor School performance

Early prevention which aims to reduce offending could not only reduce offending, but also reduce problems in accommodation, relationships, employment, aggressive behaviour and alcohol and drug abuse.


Longitudinal studies are useful because they allow the researcher to study the development of a phenomena, in this case Farrington could see if children with a variety of family characteristics such as criminality in the family would develop into criminals themselves.

Although the sample was large and the sample attrition rate was low (11.2%), the sample was androcentric and ethnocentric; containing only males from South London.

Validity could be called into question as both the self-report method (interviews in this case) and studying Official Statistics may not be the most apt way of studying crime. Self-reports may be invalid as participants may lie, especially as they may feel it could incriminate themselves. Official Statistics can only report the crimes of the convicted and not the crimes of those who did not get caught, so they do not give a true picture of criminal behaviour.

Temporal bias may come into account, as the boys were all born between 1953/54, the results may not be replicable in the present. A present day sample from South London would differ significantly from that of the 1950s.

Podcast (Downloadable)


Reiss, Albert J. , Jr. and Farrington, David P. and Farrington, David P. (1994) Advancing knowledge about co-offending: Results from a prospective longitudinal survey of London males, Psychosocial Explanations of Crime, Dartmouth Publishing, pp. 315 – 350

Further Reading

Maternal Care and Health – John Bowlby (1951) 


Child care and the growth of love: Based by permission of the World Health Organization on the report ‘Maternal care and mental health’ (Pelican books)

Article Name
Farrington et al (1994) Disrupted Families
One of the key studies for OCR A2 Psychology, from the forensic psychology and the turning to crime subsection.