Author: Gerda Neyer
Dr. Amber L. Beckley recently received a 3-year research grant from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond to study ”Childhood psychosocial and environmental predictors of crime and victimization across life”. (2.875 mil kr). Dr Gerda Neyer sat down to talk about her research project.
Gerda Neyer: You received a grant to study how childhood experiences affect whether a person is victimized or commits crime later in life. What are the main research questions and content of your project?
There are many studies that find that early childhood experience influences adult behavior, but three aspects are still largely unknown:
First, we mostly know that people who have experienced crime in childhood have a greater likelihood of a similar experience as adults. But we know very little about how childhood experience influences the entire life course of a person to become a victim or an offender.
Second, we still do not know which childhood factors predict whether a person will become a victim or an offender during her or his lifetime.
Third, we still do not know which childhood factors determine whether a person becomes both, a victim and an offender, over her or his life course.
How will you investigate these questions?
We will combine unique survey data with register data. This will provide us with an excellent dataset to analyze to what extent the environment in which a person grew up and experiences of victimization and crime during her or his childhood and youth led to becoming a victim or an offender in the course of his or her life.
Can you tell us more about these data?
Sweden has register data that cover the entire population. The registers contain different information about essential events that happened in a person’s life. These registers can be linked so that we can follow the life course of people, for example, their education, their employment histories, marriage, divorce, birth of children, and so forth. We can also include information on their family, like their parents, siblings, children or grandchildren. The register data reach back to the 1960s. For this research project we are allowed to link these data with conviction registers about crimes and offenses that were handled in court and for which a person had been convicted.
To study which factors in a person’s childhood may play a role that this person later becomes a victim or commits a crime, we also need some more in-depth information about this person’s childhood and youth. For example, whether this person was a victim of violence and how she or he experienced or handled this.
In our project, we will be able to combine the rich register data with the unique dataset of the Stockholm Life Course Project that contains more of such in-depth information. In the Stockholm Life Course Project, a team of researchers consisting of psychologists, criminologist, and social scientists interviewed young people who had become offenders during the late 1950s-early 1960s and similar young people who had not become offenders. They also interviewed young people who had been placed in homes due to serious delinquencies during these years and later on during the first half of the 1990s.
The interviews cover the young people’s childhood, their families, their relationships to their parents, friends, and other relevant aspects that provide some insight into how and why they became delinquent or not. These interviews and the register data together are a rich and rare source gain insight into which aspects in people’s childhood and early youth experience are most likely to determine whether these people become victims or offenders later in life.
To have so much information on a person’s life course at hand, is this not a sensitive issue?
Of course, it is a very sensitive issue. To get access to the data one has to go through a very thorough process that assesses which data one will be allowed to use and combine for this research project. Only with this ethical approval are we allowed to carry out our project with the data we describe above. And of course, all data are anonymized, too.
You came to Sweden to complete your PhD in criminology from Stockholm University. You were an international post-doc researcher at Duke University in the United States, while your home-base was the Department of Sociology. What made you interested in staying in Sweden and doing research at the Department of Sociology at Stockholm University?
First, it was the unique Swedish research infrastructure. The availability of register data and of surveys for research in Sweden is unique, and provides invaluable opportunities for researchers to investigate social issues that could not be investigated with other data. This applies also to my research project. Second, it was the excellent research environment at the Department of Sociology and the Stockholm University Demography Unit (SUDA). This is a research environment that is internationally renowned for its excellent research with register data, and – also very important – it is a supportive and friendly research environment so that it is a joy to work here.