A popular way of depicting the life course in Dutch sixteenth-and seventeenthcentury folk art was by means of a metaphorical staircase. These ‘steps of life’ started at birth, with each step representing a succeeding decade in the lifespan. In these popular images it took five steps to reach the upper plateau, the prime of life, from which another five steps descended towards old age and ultimately death. Even more than the biological maturation of the individual, these steps of life signified the perils and pitfalls associated with each life phase and the way, in accordance with the Christian ethics at that time, these could best be avoided. Learning a reputable trade, getting married, starting a family and making a career were all perceived as vital to reaching a fulfilled and happy life. Today, this sixteenth-century folk wisdom re-echoes in many developmental and life-course criminological theories as they seek to explain criminal desistance.