Wikström and Tafel, (2003): The Peterborough Youth Study

Wikström and Tafel, (2003): The Peterborough Youth Study


This study focuses on upbringing in the development of criminality.

How does poverty and disadvantaged neighbourhoods affect such development?

Crime is often perceived as more common occurrence among the poor and working classes, however, in considering what is ‘poor’ simply measuring economic wealth is not enough: other measures such as social factors and education must be taken into account, in order to gain a more complete understanding of poverty.

There are two background studies that it would be beneficial for you to know:

  • Messner (1988)
  • Hargreaves (1980)

Messner (1988)

Messner used an assessment based on income, one-parent families, poor education and high infant mortality – termed: ‘structural poverty’.

Key finding: the higher the structural poverty, the higher the crime rate.

However, explaining crime through poverty neglects to explain crimes of the rich and crimes of passion.

Hargreaves (1980)

Key points: four common features of schools with high delinquency and criminality:

  • High Staff Turnover
  • Low Staff Commitment
  • Grouping Students According to Ability
  • Social Disadvantage

To study a range of factors and to identify which are the most significant in predicting the future criminality of individuals.

To study the interaction between individuals life-style rick and its influence on offending.

The factors studied:

  • Poverty
  • Disadvantage
  • Substance Abuse

Cross-sectional, snapshot study.

Questionnaires were conducted in 2000-01.

The response rate was 92%

20% of the original sample was interviewed about a week’s activities.

In addition, data on their neighbourhood (Peterborough) was obtained from the 1991 Census.

Studied Crimes:

  • Violence
  • Vandalism
  • Shoplifting
  • Burglary
  • Theft


1957 students from 13 state schools in the Peterborough area. The Students were aged between 14-15 years old.


People who commit many crimes, commit a wide range of crimes.

45% of males had committed at least one of the studied crimes.

31% of females had committed at least one of the studied crimes.

Offenders who commit crimes frequently tend to commit a wide range of crimes. Offenders are also more likely to be involved in alcohol and drug abuse.

9.8% of the males; 3.8% of the females had committed a serious crime of theft:

  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Theft from a car
  • Theft of a car

Individuals with high protective factors are less likely to offend than those with low protective factors. Whereas, individuals with high risk factors are more likely to commit crime.

Personality Factors:

  • Poor Self-control
  • Low Shame
  • Antisocial Values

Lifestyle Risk Factors

  • Time with peers in public settings
  • Drink and Drugs
  • Truanting from school

Protective Factors

  • Strong family bond
  • Parental monitoring
  • School attendance

Key Risk Factors: 

  • Weak family bonds
  • Weak School bonds
  • Poor Parental Monitoring
  • Truancy
  • Social Class
  • Disadvantaged Neighbourhoods
  • Weak Morality
  • Poor Self-control

The researchers suggest three groups of adolescent offenders:

  • Propensity-induced
  • Lifestyle-dependent
  • Situationally-limited


Cross-sectional studies are low in reliability.

As the study was a snapshot subject attrition was low, it is also less time consuming.

Both the interviews questionnaires could have lead to both social desirability and demand characteristics which lowers the validity. However, interviews allow in depth data to be gathered.

The study does not account for individual variables such as IQ.

As the sample was large, generalisations can be made about similar areas.

This study offers a wide range of explanations of criminal behaviour.

Determinism is suggested, which provides evidence for the nature side of the nature/nurture debate.

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Wikström and Tafel (2003) –  The Peterborough Youth Study

Further Reading


Article Name
Wikström and Tafel (2003): The Peterborough Youth Study
One of the key studies for the OCR A2 Psychology exam. How do criminals become criminals?