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Does Child Abuse Cause Crime?

  • Janet Currie
  • Erdal Tekin

Child maltreatment, which includes both child abuse and child neglect, is a major social problem. This paper focuses on measuring the effects of child maltreatment on crime using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). We focus on crime because it is one of the most socially costly potential outcomes of maltreatment, and because the proposed mechanisms linking maltreatment and crime are relatively well elucidated in the literature. Our work addresses many limitations of the existing literature on child maltreatment. First, we use a large national sample, and investigate different types of abuse in a similar framework. Second, we pay careful attention to identifying the causal impact of abuse, by using a variety of statistical methods that make differing assumptions. These methods include: Ordinary Least Squares (OLS), propensity score matching estimators, and twin fixed effects. Finally, we examine the extent to which the effects of maltreatment vary with socio-economic status (SES), gender, and the severity of the maltreatment. We find that maltreatment approximately doubles the probability of engaging in many types of crime. Low SES children are both more likely to be mistreated and suffer more damaging effects. Boys are at greater risk than girls, at least in terms of increased propensity to commit crime. Sexual abuse appears to have the largest negative effects, perhaps justifying the emphasis on this type of abuse in the literature. Finally, the probability of engaging in crime increases with the experience of multiple forms of maltreatment as well as the experience of Child Protective Services (CPS) investigation.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12171.

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Date of creation: Apr 2006
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12171
Note: CH ED
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  1. Guido W. Imbens, 2003. "Nonparametric Estimation of Average Treatment Effects under Exogeneity: A Review," NBER Technical Working Papers 0294, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Erdal Tekin & Sara Markowitz, 2005. "Suicidal Behavior and the Labor Market Productivity of Young Adults," NBER Working Papers 11238, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Brian A. Jacob & Lars Lefgren, 2003. "Are Idle Hands the Devil's Workshop? Incapacitation, Concentration, and Juvenile Crime," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(5), pages 1560-1577, December.
  4. Christina Paxson & Jane Waldfogel, 1999. "Work, Welfare, and Child Maltreatment," Working Papers 278, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  5. H. Naci Mocan & Daniel I. Rees, 1999. "Economic Conditions, Deterrence and Juvenile Crime: Evidence from Micro Data," NBER Working Papers 7405, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Zhao, Zhong, 2005. "Sensitivity of Propensity Score Methods to the Specifications," IZA Discussion Papers 1873, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Mocan, H Naci & Tekin, Erdal, 2006. "Guns and Juvenile Crime," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 49(2), pages 507-31, October.
  8. Jane Waldfogel & Christina Paxson, 1999. "Parental Resources and Child Abuse and Neglect," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 239-244, May.
  9. Corman, Hope & Mocan, Naci, 2005. "Carrots, Sticks, and Broken Windows," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 48(1), pages 235-66, April.
  10. Anne Case & Darren Lubotsky & Christina Paxson, 2001. "Economic Status and Health in Childhood: The Origins of the Gradient," NBER Working Papers 8344, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Mocan, Naci & Tekin, Erdal, 2003. "Guns, Drugs and Juvenile Crime: Evidence from a Panel of Siblings and Twins," IZA Discussion Papers 932, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  12. Freeman, Richard B., 1999. "The economics of crime," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 52, pages 3529-3571 Elsevier.
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