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Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not

  • Steven D. Levitt

Crime dropped sharply and unexpectedly in the United States in the 1990s. I conclude that four factors collectively explain the entire drop in crime: increases in the number of police, increases in the size of the prison population, the waning of the crack epidemic, and the legalization of abortion in the 1970s. Other common explanations for declining crime appear far less important. The factors identified are much less successful in explaining fluctuations in crime in the preceding two decades. The real puzzle is not why crime fell in the 1990s, but rather, why crime did not begin falling earlier.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/089533004773563485
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 18 (2004)
Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
Pages: 163-190

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:18:y:2004:i:1:p:163-190
Note: DOI: 10.1257/089533004773563485
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  1. Hashem Dezhbakhsh & Paul H. Rubin & Joanna M. Shepherd, 2001. "Does Capital Punishment Have a Deterrent Effect? New Evidence from Post-moratorium Panel Data," Emory Economics 0101, Department of Economics, Emory University (Atlanta).
  2. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Melvin Stephens Jr., 2002. "Abortion Legalization and Adolescent Substance Use," NBER Working Papers 9193, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Daniel Kessler & Steven D. Levitt, 1998. "Using Sentence Enhancements to Distinguish between Deterrence and Incapacitation," NBER Working Papers 6484, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. John J. Donohue III & Steven D. Levitt, 2003. "Further Evidence that Legalized Abortion Lowered Crime: A Reply to Joyce," NBER Working Papers 9532, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1977. "Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Some Further Thoughts and Additional Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(4), pages 741-88, August.
  6. Leamer, Edward E, 1983. "Let's Take the Con Out of Econometrics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(1), pages 31-43, March.
  7. Jonathan Gruber & Phillip Levine & Douglas Staiger, 1999. "Abortion Legalization And Child Living Circumstances: Who Is The ''Marginal Child''?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(1), pages 263-291, February.
  8. Lawrence Katz & Steven D. Levitt & Ellen Shustorovich, 2003. "Prison Conditions, Capital Punishment, and Deterrence," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(2), pages 318-343, August.
  9. Cameron, Samuel, 1988. "The Economics of Crime Deterrence: A Survey of Theory and Evidence," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 301-23.
  10. Steven D. Levitt, 1995. "Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Policeon Crime," NBER Working Papers 4991, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Ian Ayres & John J. Donohue III, 2002. "Shooting Down the More Guns, Less Crime Hypothesis," NBER Working Papers 9336, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Isaac Ehrlich, 1973. "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death," NBER Working Papers 0018, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Kuziemko, Ilyana & Levitt, Steven D., 2004. "An empirical analysis of imprisoning drug offenders," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2043-2066, August.
  14. Gary S. Becker, 1968. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76, pages 169.
  15. Steven D. Levitt, 1997. "Juvenile Crime and Punishment," NBER Working Papers 6191, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Ted Joyce, 2004. "Did Legalized Abortion Lower Crime?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(1).
  17. John J. Donohue & Steven D. Levitt, 1999. "Legalized Abortion and Crime," JCPR Working Papers 104, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  18. Mark Duggan, 2001. "More Guns, More Crime," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(5), pages 1086-1114, October.
  19. Jeff Grogger & Michael Willis, 2000. "The Emergence Of Crack Cocaine And The Rise In Urban Crime Rates," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 82(4), pages 519-529, November.
  20. John J. DiIulio, 1996. "Help Wanted: Economists, Crime and Public Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 3-24, Winter.
  21. H. Naci Mocan & Hope Corman, 2000. "A Time-Series Analysis of Crime, Deterrence, and Drug Abuse in New York City," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(3), pages 584-604, June.
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