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Lifestyles Theory Essay

The “lifestyle/exposure theory” was developed by Hindelang, Gottfredson, and Garofalo (1978:243; e.g., see Goldstein, 1994; Maxfield, 1987:275; Miethe, Stafford, and Long, 1987:184). This model of criminal events links victimization risks to the daily activities of specific individuals (Goldstein, 1994:54; Kennedy and Forde, 1990:208).Lifestyles are patterned, regular, recurrent, prevalent, or “routine activities” (Robinson, 1997b; also see Cohen and Felson, 1979; Felson, 1994; Hindelang, Gottfredson, and Garofalo, 1978:241; Garofalo, 1987:24, 39). Lifestyles consist of the activities that people engage in on a daily basis, including both obligatory and discretionary activities. LeBeau and Coulson (1996:3; also see LeBeau and Corcoran, 1990) assert that:The former are activities that must be undertaken while the latter because they are pursued by choice are called discretionary.

‘An activity is discretionary if there is a greater chance of choice than constraint, and obligatory if there is a greater degree of constraint than choice” (Chapin, 1974:38). Both activities have a duration, position in time, a place in a sequence of events, and a fixed location or path in space (Chapin, 1974:37).Kennedy and Forde (1990:208) summarized the lifestyle/exposure model as “lifestyle, encompassing differences in age, sex, marital status, family income, and race, influences daily routines and vulnerability to criminal victimization, resulting in the fact that “Victimization is not evenly distributed randomly across space and time — there are high-risk locations and high-risk time periods” (Garofalo, 1987:26). “Lifestyle patterns influence (a) the amount of exposure to places and times with varying risks of victimization, and (b) the prevalence of associations with others who are more or less likely to commit crimes.”

A similar theoretical model developed by Kennedy and Forde (1990: 209, 211) suggested that background characteristics and daily activities affect time spent in risky lifestyles which lead to dangerous results (i.e., criminal victimization). In their words, “demographic and lifestyle variables . . . can be interpreted as contributing to more or less ‘time spent in risky activities’ and indirectly contributing to ‘dangerous results'” (Kennedy and Forde, 1990:209).Numerous studies have shown relationships between daily activities of individuals and their likelihood of criminal victimization (Riley, 1987:340). In other words, what people do and how they behave places them at either more or less risk of criminal victimization (Maxfield, 1987; Miethe, Stafford, and Long, 1987; Sampson and Wooldredge, 1987).According to Sampson and Wooldredge (1987:372): “An active lifestyle . . . appears to influence victimization risk by increasing exposure of persons and homes to potential offenders while guardianship is low.”

Yet, an active lifestyle may not necessarily increase one’s risk of criminal victimization. For example, if there is a great deal of activity by residents, neighbors, or passers by around a residence, then this activity may serve to decrease the likelihood that a property offender will victimize a residence. In fact, many property offenders are non-confrontational and want to avoid being seen by residents, neighbors, or passers by (Cromwell, Olson, and Avary, 1991; Tunnell, 1994; Wright and Decker, 1994). Whether an active lifestyle leads to higher or lower risks for criminal victimization may depend on several factors. It might depend on the nature of one’s activities — i.e., whether they are patterned and predictable to offenders, or sporadic and less predictable.

This issue has not been settled by academic research, although the majority of lifestyle research suggests that active lifestyles increase risks for criminal victimization (Robinson, 1997b). Part of why there is some uncertainty about this issue is because when relationships between lifestyles and crime are studied, dependent variables typically consist of some composite measure of crime (see Robinson, 1997b; Thompson and Fisher, 1996). Whether active lifestyles lead to higher or lower risks for crime might depend on the specific type of crime that is being studied. Since composite measures of crime have been utilized by researchers rather than distinct measures of individual crime types (Bennett, 1991; Maxfield, 1987; Thompson and Fisher, 1996), it is nearly impossible to differentiate the effects of peoples’ lifestyles on different types of criminal victimization.

This is problematic, because lifestyle/exposure theory is “crime specific” (Bennett, 1991:158; Thompson and Fisher, 1996). For example, crimes such as burglary and theft may create different opportunities for offenders: For a burglary to occur, an offender has to break and enter a home to get the desired goods. An offender who commits a larceny, on the other hand, may ride off with a bicycle left out on the lawn or steal something from the porch of a home.

These examples demonstrate that the opportunity structure for burglary and larceny are different and therefore the two crimes must be examined separately in research (Thompson and Fisher, 1996:52; also see Gottfredson, 1984; Maxfield, 1987; Sampson and Wooldredge, 1987).Research examining the relationship between lifestyles and crime should avoid pooling or aggregating crime types, because examining the effects of lifestyles on composite measures of crime leads to inconsistent findings (Thompson and Fisher, 1996:53).


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