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Why is There More Crime in Cities?


  • Edward L. Glaeser
  • Bruce Sacerdote


Crime rates are much higher in big cities than in either small cities or rural areas, and this situation has been relatively pervasive for several centuries. This paper attempts to explain this connection by using victimization data, evidence from the NLSY on criminal behavior and the Uniform Crime Reports. Higher pecuniary benefits for crime in large cities can explain approximately 27% of the effect for overall crime, though obviously much less of the urban- crime connection for non-pecuniary crimes such as rape or assault. Lower arrest probabilities, and lower probability of recognition, are a feature of urban life, but these factors seem to explain at most 20% of the urban crime effect. The remaining 45-60% of the effect can be related to observable characteristics of individuals and cities. The characteristics that seem most important are those that reflect tastes, social influences and family structure. Ultimately, we can say that the urban crime premium is associated with these characteristics, but we are left trying to explain why these characteristics are connected with urban living.
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Suggested Citation

  • Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 1996. "Why is There More Crime in Cities?," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1746, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:fth:harver:1746

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote & José A. Scheinkman, 1996. "Crime and Social Interactions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(2), pages 507-548.
    2. Becker, G.S. & Mulligan, C.B., 1994. "On the Endogenous Determination of Time Preference," University of Chicago - Economics Research Center 94-2, Chicago - Economics Research Center.
    3. Jeffrey Grogger, 1995. "The Effect of Arrests on the Employment and Earnings of Young Men," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(1), pages 51-71.
    4. Kevin M. Murphy & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1991. "The Allocation of Talent: Implications for Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(2), pages 503-530.
    5. Ehrlich, Isaac & Becker, Gary S, 1972. "Market Insurance, Self-Insurance, and Self-Protection," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 80(4), pages 623-648, July-Aug..
    6. Levitt, Steven D, 1998. "Why Do Increased Arrest Rates Appear to Reduce Crime: Deterrence, Incapacitation, or Measurement Error?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 36(3), pages 353-372, July.
    7. Case, A.C. & Katz, L.F., 1991. "The Company You Keep: The Effects Of Family And Neighborhood On Disadvantaged Younths," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1555, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    8. Murphy, Kevin M & Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W, 1993. "Why Is Rent-Seeking So Costly to Growth?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 409-414, May.
    9. 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.
    10. Richard B. Freeman, 1991. "Crime and the Employment of Disadvantaged Youths," NBER Working Papers 3875, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. repec:hoo:wpaper:e-95-2 is not listed on IDEAS
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • R10 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - General


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