Marvin Wolfgang

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Marvin Wolfgang
Born(1924-11-14)November 14, 1924
Millersburg, Pennsylvania
DiedApril 12, 1998(1998-04-12) (aged 73)
Academic background
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania
Academic advisorsThorsten Sellin
Academic work
InstitutionsUniversity of Pennsylvania

Marvin Eugene Wolfgang (14 November 1924 in Millersburg, Pennsylvania – 12 April 1998 in Philadelphia) was an American sociologist and criminologist.

Wolfgang was a soldier in World War II and participated in the Battle of Monte Cassino. After the war he studied at the University of Pennsylvania, where his principal teacher was Thorsten Sellin.[1] At Penn, Wolfgang took his MA (1950) and PhD (1955) in sociology/criminology. Until his death in 1998 he was a professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1964, he published The Measurement of Delinquency, which was the first study of the true impact of crime on society. Three years later, he completed The Subculture of Violence: Towards an Integrated Theory in Criminology, which focused on high rates of violence among blacks and the influence of a black subculture.

Wolfgang wrote over 30 books and 150 articles throughout his life. His most famous work, Delinquency in a Birth Cohort, was published in 1972. This book marked the beginning of large-scale studies of crime and delinquency. It was a study of over 10,000 boys born in Philadelphia in 1945. The purpose was "to determine which members of the cohort had official contacts with the police, to compare delinquents with nondelinquents, and to trace the volume, frequency and character of delinquent careers up to age 18." The data revealed that of 9,945 boys, 3,475 had at least one recorded police incident. Other statistics showed that offender rates increased gradually from ages 7 to 11, increased rapidly from 11 to 16, and declined at age 17. The study concluded that a small number of offenders account for most of the offenses committed. It also stated that "the juvenile justice system has been able to screen the hard core offenders fairly well, but it has been unable to restrain, discourage, or cure delinquency."

Wolfgang won many awards, including the Hans Von Hentig Award from the World Society of Victimology in 1988, the Edwin Sutherland Award from the American Society of Criminology in 1989, the Beccaria Gold Medal from the German, Austrian, and Swiss Society of Criminology in 1997; in 1993, the Wolfgang Criminology Award was established in his name.

Wolfgang spent the later years of his life showing his opposition to issues such as the death penalty and the use of a gun against a perpetrator in articles such as "We Do Not Deserve to Kill" and A Tribute to a View I Have Opposed. (at in which he says he does not like their conclusions that having a gun for self-defense "can be useful," but cannot fault their methodology.

""What troubles me is the article by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz. ["Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun," by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, published in that same issue of The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology] The reason I am troubled is that they have provided an almost clear cut case of methodologically sound research in support of something I have theoretically opposed for years, namely, the use of a gun in defense against a criminal perpetrator. ...I have to admit my admiration for the care and caution expressed in this article and this research. Can it be true that about two million instances occur each year in which a gun was used as a defensive measure against crime? It is hard to believe. Yet, it is hard to challenge the data collected. We do not have contrary evidence. The National Crime Victim Survey does not directly contravene this latest survey, nor do the Mauser and Hart Studies. ... the methodological soundness of the current Kleck and Gertz study is clear. I cannot further debate it. ... The Kleck and Gertz study impresses me for the caution the authors exercise and the elaborate nuances they examine methodologically. I do not like their conclusions that having a gun can be useful, but I cannot fault their methodology. They have tried earnestly to meet all objections in advance and have done exceedingly well."

His career was cut short by pancreatic cancer, and he died on 12 April 1998. The British Journal of Criminology stated he was "the most influential criminologist in the English-speaking world."

Major works[edit]

  • Patterns in Criminal Homicide, Philadelphia Univ. of Pennsylvania 1958. OCLC 832916743
  • The Subculture of Violence: Towards an Integrated Theory in Criminology, London : Tavistock Pubs., 1967. OCLC 222594669
  • Marvin E Wolfgang; Robert M Figlio; Thorsten Sellin Delinquency in a Birth Cohort, Chicago : The University of Chicago Press, 1972. ISBN 9780226905532, OCLC 468433908


  1. ^ Raine, Adrian (2013). The Anatomy of Violence. New York, USA: Pantheon Books. pp. xi. ISBN 978-0-307-37884-2.

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