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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. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Melvin Stephens Jr., 2002. "Abortion Legalization and Adolescent Substance Use," NBER Working Papers 9193, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. 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.
  3. Jonathan Gruber & Phillip Levine & Douglas Staiger, 1997. "Abortion Legalization and Child Living Circumstances: Who is the "Marginal Child?"," NBER Working Papers 6034, 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. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Ilyana Kuziemko & Steven D. Levitt, 2001. "An Empirical Analysis of Imprisoning Drug Offenders," NBER Working Papers 8489, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Mark Duggan, 2001. "More Guns, More Crime," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(5), pages 1086-1114, October.
  12. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters, in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Ted Joyce, 2004. "Did Legalized Abortion Lower Crime?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(1).
  14. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1975. "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(3), pages 397-417, June.
  15. 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.
  16. 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).
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. Cameron, Samuel, 1988. "The Economics of Crime Deterrence: A Survey of Theory and Evidence," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 301-23.
  20. 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.
  21. Steven D. Levitt, 1997. "Juvenile Crime and Punishment," NBER Working Papers 6191, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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