Amber Lauren BeckleyLektor
Amber is a criminologist whose research focuses on how developmental factors influence criminal offending and victimization across the life-course. Amber is the principal investigator on the project "Childhood psychosocial and environmental predictors of crime and victimization across life.", funded by a 2.875 mil SEK grant from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond. Amber is a co-investigator on the project, "What happend in Sweden over the last 40 years?", funded by a 4.9 million SEK grant from the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working life and Welfare (Forte). The project focuses on how immigration has affected the development of crime in Sweden over the last 40 years.
A selection from Stockholm University publication database
Are skewed sex ratios associated with violent crime? A longitudinal analysis using Swedish register data
2021. Andreas Filser (et al.). Evolution and human behavior 42 (3), 212-222Article
There is widespread concern in both the popular and academic literature that a surplus of men in a population intensifies mating competition between men, particularly unpartnered men, resulting in increased violence towards both men and women. Recent contributions challenge this perspective and argue that male mating competition and levels of violence will be higher when sex ratios are female-skewed. Existing empirical evidence remains inconclusive. We argue that this empirical ambiguity results from analyses of aggregate-level data, which put inferences at risk of ecological fallacies. Our analysis circumvents such problems by using individual-level, longitudinal demographic register and police data for the Stockholm metropolitan area, Sweden (1990–2003, n = 758,498). These data allow us to investigate the association between municipality-level sex ratios and violent offending (homicide, assault, threat, and sexual crimes) while adjusting for sociodemographic factors. Results suggest that aggregated offending rates are negatively associated with male-skewed sex ratios, whereas individual-level violent offending correlates positively with male-skews. We find that the more-men-more-violence association holds particularly for male violence against other men, but is insignificant for violence against women. Moreover, the association is significant among childless men, but not among fathers. However, robustness checks question the causality of these associations. Female violent offending is positively, albeit due to a low number of cases, insignificantly associated with male-skews. Moreover, both male and female non-violent offending is higher in male-skewed municipalities. We discuss the implications with regard to the theoretical debate and problems of unobserved heterogeneity in the sex ratio literature.
Health and criminal justice system involvement among African American siblings
2019. Amber L. Beckley (et al.). SSM - Population Health 7Article
Health disparities between African Americans and Whites have persisted in the United States. Researchers have recently hypothesized that the relatively poor health of African Americans may be caused, in part, by African American overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.
To test the hypothesis that criminal justice system involvement is associated with poor health and greater health risk when controlling for unobserved family factors through a discordant sibling design.
Subjects were drawn from the Carolina African American Twin Study of Aging (CAATSA). Criminal conviction records were extracted from North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety. Six measures of health and one measure of health risk were analyzed. The health of convicted respondents was compared to that of unrelated non-convicted respondents matched on childhood and demographic factors (“matched sample”). Convicted respondents were also compared to non-convicted siblings (“discordant sibling sample”).
The matched sample included 134 CAATSA respondents. On average, convicted CAATSA respondents, compared to matched non-convicted respondents, were in worse health. Convicted respondents had worse mean self-reported health, worse lung function, more depressive symptoms, and smoked more. The discordant sibling sample included 74 respondents. Convicted siblings and non-convicted siblings had similar self-reported health, depressive symptoms, and smoking. In general, non-convicted siblings were in worse health than non-convicted respondents from the matched sample, implying that poor health runs in families.
This study provided preliminary evidence that some of the association between a criminal record and poor health is confounded by family factors. Though more research is needed to support these results, the study suggests that criminal involvement may not be associated with the surfeit of health problems observed among African Americans. The criminal justice system, nonetheless, could be used to decrease the health disparity.
Psychosocial Maturation, Race, and Desistance from Crime
2019. Michael Rocque, Amber L. Beckley, Alex R. Piquero. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 48 (7), 1403-1417Article
Research on maturation and its relation to antisocial behavior has progressed appreciably in recent years. Psychosocial maturation is a relatively recent concept of development that scholarship has linked to risky behavior. Psychosocial maturation appears to be a promising explanation of the process of exiting criminal behavior, known as desistance from crime. However, to date, research has not examined whether psychosocial maturation is related to desistance in similar ways across race/ethnicity. Using the Pathways to Desistance Study which followed a mixed-race/ethnicity group of serious adolescent offenders for 7 years, this research tested growth in psychosocial maturation across race/ethnic groups. The sample (14.46% female, average age 15.97 at baseline) was composed of white (n = 250), black (n = 463), and Hispanic (n = 414) individuals. The results showed variation in trajectories of psychosocial maturation with blacks having higher initial levels but slower growth in maturation over time compared to whites. Psychosocial maturation was negatively related to crime across all racial/ethnic groups. Across all racial/ethnic groups, differences in the magnitude of the association between psychosocial maturation and desistance were small. Rather than needing distinct theories for specific groups, psychosocial maturation appears to be a general theoretical perspective for understanding desistance from crime across races/ethnicities. Policy formulation based on psychosocial maturation would, therefore, be applicable across racial/ethnic groups.
The propensity for aggressive behavior and lifetime incarceration risk
2019. J. C. Barnes (et al.). Aggression and Violent Behavior 49Article
Incarceration is a disruptive event that is experienced by a considerable proportion of the United States population. Research has identified social factors that predict incarceration risk, but scholars have called for a focus on the ways that individual differences combine with social factors to affect incarceration risk. Our study is an initial attempt to heed this call using whole-genome data. We use data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) (N = 6716) to construct a genome-wide measure of genetic propensity for aggressive behavior and use it to predict lifetime incarceration risk. We find that participants with a higher genetic propensity for aggression are more likely to experience incarceration, but the effect is stronger for males than females. Importantly, we identify a gene-environment interaction (G x E)-genetic propensity is reduced, substantively and statistically, to a non-significant predictor for males raised in homes where at least one parent graduated high school. We close by placing these findings in the broader context of concerns that have been raised about genetics research in criminology.
Association of Childhood Blood Lead Levels With Criminal Offending
2018. Amber L. Beckley (et al.). JAMA pediatrics 172 (2), 166-173Article
Importance Lead is a neurotoxin with well-documented effects on health. Research suggests that lead may be associated with criminal behavior. This association is difficult to disentangle from low socioeconomic status, a factor in both lead exposure and criminal offending.
Objective To test the hypothesis that a higher childhood blood lead level (BLL) is associated with greater risk of criminal conviction, recidivism (repeat conviction), conviction for violent offenses, and variety of self-reported criminal offending in a setting where BLL was not associated with low socioeconomic status.
Design, Setting, and Participants A total of 553 individuals participated in a prospective study based on a population-representative cohort born between April 1, 1972, and March 31, 1973, from New Zealand; the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study observed participants to age 38 years (December 2012). Statistical analysis was performed from November 10, 2016, to September 5, 2017.
Exposures Blood lead level measured at age 11 years.
Main Outcomes and Measures Official criminal conviction cumulative to age 38 years (data collected in 2013), single conviction or recidivism, conviction for nonviolent or violent crime, and self-reported variety of crime types at ages 15, 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38 years.
Results Participants included 553 individuals (255 female and 298 male participants) who had their blood tested for lead at age 11 years. The mean (SD) BLL at age 11 years was 11.01 (4.62) μg/dL. A total of 154 participants (27.8%) had a criminal conviction, 86 (15.6%) had recidivated, and 53 (9.6%) had a violent offense conviction. Variety scores for self-reported offending ranged from 0 to 10 offense types at each assessment; higher numbers indicated greater crime involvement. Self-reported offending followed the well-established age-crime curve (ie, the mean [SD] variety of self-reported offending increased from 1.99 [2.82] at age 15 years to its peak of 4.24 [3.15] at age 18 years and 4.22 [3.02] at age 21 years and declined thereafter to 1.10 [1.59] at age 38 years). Blood lead level was a poor discriminator between no conviction and conviction (area under the curve, 0.58). Overall, associations between BLL and conviction outcomes were weak. The estimated effect of BLL was lower for recidivism than for single convictions and lower for violent offending than for nonviolent offending. Sex-adjusted associations between BLL reached statistical significance for only 1 of the 6 self-reported offending outcomes at age 15 years (r = 0.10; 95% CI, 0.01-0.18; P = .02).
Conclusions and Relevance This study overcomes past limitations of studies of BLL and crime by studying the association in a place and time where the correlation was not confounded by childhood socioeconomic status. Findings failed to support a dose-response association between BLL and consequential criminal offending.
Genetics and Crime
2018. J. Wertz (et al.). Psychological Science 29 (5), 791-803Article
Drawing on psychological and sociological theories of crime causation, we tested the hypothesis that genetic risk for low educational attainment (assessed via a genome-wide polygenic score) is associated with criminal offending. We further tested hypotheses of how polygenic risk relates to the development of antisocial behavior from childhood through adulthood. Across the Dunedin and Environmental Risk (E-Risk) birth cohorts of individuals growing up 20 years and 20,000 kilometers apart, education polygenic scores predicted risk of a criminal record with modest effects. Polygenic risk manifested during primary schooling in lower cognitive abilities, lower self-control, academic difficulties, and truancy, and it was associated with a life-course-persistent pattern of antisocial behavior that onsets in childhood and persists into adulthood. Crime is central in the nature-nurture debate, and findings reported here demonstrate how molecular-genetic discoveries can be incorporated into established theories of antisocial behavior. They also suggest that improving school experiences might prevent genetic influences on crime from unfolding.
The Developmental Nature of the Victim-Offender Overlap
2018. Amber L. Beckley (et al.).Article
Purpose It is well-established that victims and offenders are often the same people, a phenomenon known as the victim-offender overlap, but the developmental nature of this overlap remains uncertain. In this study, we drew from a developmental theoretical framework to test effects of genetics, individual characteristics, and routine-activity-based risks. Drawing from developmental literature, we additionally tested the effect of an accumulation of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Methods Data came from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Study, a representative UK birth cohort of 2232 twins born in 1994-1995 and followed to age 18 (with 93% retention). Crime victimization and offending were assessed through self-reports at age 18 (but findings replicated using crime records). We used the classical twin study method to decompose variance in the victim-offender overlap into genetic and environmental components. We used logistic regression to test the effects of childhood risk factors. Results In contrast to past twin studies, we found that environment (as well as genes) contributed to the victim-offender overlap. Our logistic regression results showed that childhood low self-control and childhood antisocial behavior nearly doubled the odds of becoming a victim-offender, compared to a victim-only or an offender-only. Each additional ACE increased the odds of becoming a victim-offender, compared to a victim-only or an offender-only, by approximately 12%, pointing to the importance of cumulative childhood adversity. Conclusions This study showed that the victim-offender overlap is, at least partially, developmental in nature and predictable from personal childhood characteristics and an accumulation of many adverse childhood experiences.
2016. Amber L. Beckley (et al.). Journal of criminal justice 46, 64-81Article
Purpose: To describe official adult-onset offenders, investigate their antisocial histories and test hypotheses about their origins. Methods: We defined adult-onset offenders among 931 Dunedin Study members followed to age 38, using criminal-court conviction records. Results: Official adult-onset offenders were 14% of men, and 32% of convicted men, but accounted for only 15% of convictions. As anticipated by developmental theories emphasizing early-life influences on crime, adult-onset offenders' histories of antisocial behavior spanned back to childhood. Relative to juvenile-offenders, during adolescence they had fewer delinquent peers and were more socially inhibited, which may have protected them from conviction. As anticipated by theories emphasizing the importance of situational influences on offending, adult onset offenders, relative to non-offenders, during adulthood more often had schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and alcohol-dependence, had weaker social bonds, anticipated fewer informal sanctions, and self-reported more offenses. Contrary to some expectations, adult-onset offenders did not have high IQ or high socioeconomic-status families protecting them from juvenile conviction. Conclusions: A tailored theory for adult-onset offenders is unwarranted because few people begin crime de novo as adults. Official adult-onset offenders fall on a continuum of crime and its correlates, between official non offenders and official juvenile-onset offenders. Existing theories can accommodate adult-onset offenders.
ABANDON TWIN RESEARCH?
2015. Terrie E. Moffitt, Amber Beckley. Criminology (Beverly Hills) 53 (1), 121-126Article
In their original article, Burt and Simons (2014) argued that heritability studies should be abandoned because twin and adoption research is a fatally flawed paradigm. They pointed optimistically to epigenetics research as the way forward. In our view, both recommendations are hasty. This commentary will put forward two contrarian opinions. First, twin and adoption studies still have a lot to offer criminologists who seek the social causes of crime. Second, epigenetics research has very little to offer yet for criminologists who seek the social causes of crime.
Age at immigration and crime in Stockholm using sibling comparisons
2015. Amber L. Beckley. Social Science Research 53, 239-251Article
Past Swedish research has shown that immigrants arriving in the receiving country at an older age are less likely to commit crime than immigrants arriving at a younger age. Segmented assimilation theory argues that the family and neighborhood may be important factors affecting how age at immigration and crime are related to one another. This study used population-based register data on foreign-background males from Stockholm to test the effect of age at immigration on crime. Potential confounding from. the family and neighborhood was addressed using variables and modeling strategies. Initial results, using variables to control for confounding, showed that people who immigrated around age 4 were the most likely to be suspected of a crime. When controlling for unmeasured family characteristics, it seemed that a later age at immigration was tied to a lower likelihood of crime, which does not corroborate past research findings. The effect of age at immigration, however, was not statistically significant. The results imply that future research on entire families may be a worthwhile endeavor.
Foreign background and criminal offending among young males in Stockholm
2015. Amber Beckley (et al.).Thesis (Doc)
This doctoral thesis considers how factors from the home country, the family, and the individual impact the risk for criminal offending among young males from a foreign background residing in Stockholm. I use Swedish register data to examine the risk for police registered suspicion of criminal offending. The introductory chapter presents an historical overview of immigration in Sweden, theories of criminal offending, and details about analysis of register data. It is followed by three empirical studies that consider unique risk factors for crime among children of immigrants while controlling for factors encountered within Sweden. The first study shows that young male children of immigrants do not seem to be inherently violent as a result of coming from a war-torn country. The second study indicates that it is not the age at immigration, but the family situation that seems to dictate criminal propensity. The final study suggests that threats of deportation and stricter immigration policies do not seem to deter criminality. The most interesting result was probably that high home country human development was a protective factor against crime. This is the first known work to uncover such a result. Future theoretical development may be best aimed at unpacking and empirically evaluating the human development index as a risk factor. Together, these three studies suggest that some previously unconsidered uniquely immigrant factors are related to risk for criminality.
Deterrence Versus Marginalization
2015. Amber L. Beckley. Race and Justice 5 (3), 278-300Article
Immigration policies that attach citizenship and deportation consequences to crime may be aimed at deterring crime, but they also effectively marginalize immigrants and may promote crime. Evidence from Sweden and around the world indicates that, where citizenship is concerned, marginalization may have won out. This research used a population-based sample of approximately 20,000 Swedish males and more rigorous methods than past studies to test the effects of citizenship and region of origin on official police suspicion for a serious crime. The findings showed that a lack of citizenship is related to greater involvement in crime, indicating support for the marginalizing effects of immigration policies. Yet, the region of origin results presented a conflicting picture in which neither ideas on deterrence nor marginalization could be supported. In conclusion, neither the potential deterrent effects of immigration policy nor its marginalizing effects were strongly supported.
Association of height and violent criminality
2014. Amber L. Beckley (et al.). International Journal of Epidemiology 43 (3), 835-842Article
Background: Violent criminality is at least moderately heritable, but the mechanisms behind this remain largely unexplained. Height, a highly heritable trait, may be involved but no study has estimated the effect of height on crime while simultaneously accounting for important demographic, biological and other heritable confounders. Methods: We linked nationwide, longitudinal registers for 760 000 men who underwent mandatory military conscription from 1980 through 1992 in Sweden, to assess the association between height and being convicted of a violent crime. We used Cox proportional hazard modelling and controlled for three types of potential confounders: physical characteristics, childhood demographics and general cognitive ability (intelligence). Results: In unadjusted analyses, height had a moderate negative relationship to violent crime; the shortest of men were twice as likely to be convicted of a violent crime as the tallest. However, when simultaneously controlling for all measured confounders, height was weakly and positively related to violent crime. Intelligence had the individually strongest mitigating effect on the height-crime relationship. Conclusions: Although shorter stature was associated with increased risk of violent offending, our analyses strongly suggested that this relationship was explained by intelligence and other confounding factors. Hence, it is unlikely that height, a highly heritable physical characteristic, accounts for much of the unexplained heritability of violent criminality.
Correlates of War? Towards an understanding of nativity-based variation in immigrant offending
2013. Amber L. Beckley. European Journal of Criminology 10 (4), 408-423Article
This study uses Swedish register data to assess the impact of war in the home country on the individual likelihood of registered violent crime among young male immigrants in Stockholm, Sweden. War in the home country during a migrant’s residence is significantly related to a higher likelihood of registration for a violent crime. However, these results were not sustained in a sensitivity analysis, which considered serious property crime. Analysis of the history of war in the home country produces effects opposite to those predicted, with more years of war reducing the likelihood of violent crime. These findings indicate that war is capturing other factors, within the home or the receiving country, that may be related to violent crime.