Can you predict crime levels based on economic data?

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24 November
15:31
November
2016

Maybe once you could, but nowadays it’s much more difficult for criminologists to make predictions. We always thought we could rely on the evidence that said property crime will go up when there’s high unemployment, but when the economy improves we’ll see more violent crime. Historically, throughout the 70s and 80s, there was that provable link, but – based on recent research from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies – it’s an equation that seems to have broken down now.

Back in 2011, when young people were rioting and looting, everyone said it was due to economic hardship following the recession. If you look around now, there’s still a lot of economic hardship, and austerity has continued, so you might expect more of the same thing – but it hasn’t really happened like that.

"One theory is that previously kids might have been bored, but now they have social media to distract them. "

There are lots of theories as to why this might be. One theory suggests that reducing the lead in petrol has brought about a fall in crime rates. There’s an association between lead particulates and brain development, and a correlation with impulse control – although just because two things happen at the same time doesn’t necessarily mean they’re related.

A different theory is that young people have a lot more to do these days. Whereas previously kids might have been bored, now they have smartphones to play on, and the likes of Facebook or Instagram to distract them. Or it could also be that more parents are keeping young people indoors for fear of what will happen if they go out.

Another suggestion is that gateway crimes, or first offences that can lead to more serious crime, are less common. For instance, cars are a lot harder to break into these days, so that gateway crime offence is less likely to take place, which can stop someone getting into crime through that route.

Maybe some crimes are harder to commit as well, due to increased surveillance, with city centres covered in CCTV. Whatever the reasons, we’re in quite interesting times for criminology!

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