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Immigration: America's nineteenth century "law and order problem"?

Author

Listed:
  • Howard Bodenhorn
  • Carolyn M. Moehling
  • Anne Morrison Piehl

Abstract

Past studies of the empirical relationship between immigration and crime during the first major wave of immigration have focused on violent crime in cities and have relied on data with serious limitations regarding nativity information. We analyze administrative data from Pennsylvania prisons, with high quality information on nativity and demographic characteristics. The latter allow us to construct incarceration rates for detailed population groups using U.S. Census data. The raw gap in incarceration rates for the foreign and native born is large, in accord with the extremely high concern at the time about immigrant criminality. But adjusting for age and gender greatly narrows that observed gap. Particularly striking are the urban/rural differences. Immigrants were concentrated in large cities where reported crime rates were higher. However, within rural counties, the foreign born had much higher incarceration rates than the native born. The interaction of nativity with urban residence explains much of the observed aggregate differentials in incarceration rates. Finally, we find that the foreign born, especially the Irish, consistently have higher incarceration rates for violent crimes, but from 1850 to 1860 the natives largely closed the gap with the foreign born for property offenses.

Suggested Citation

  • Howard Bodenhorn & Carolyn M. Moehling & Anne Morrison Piehl, 2010. "Immigration: America's nineteenth century "law and order problem"?," NBER Working Papers 16266, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16266
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w16266.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Carolyn Moehling & Anne Piehl, 2009. "Immigration, crime, and incarceration in early twentieth-century america," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 46(4), pages 739-763, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bodenhorn, Howard, 2016. "Prison crowding, recidivism, and early release in early Rhode Island," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 55-74.
    2. Howard Bodenhorn & Carolyn Moehling & Gregory N. Price, 2012. "Short Criminals: Stature and Crime in Early America," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55(2), pages 393-419.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy

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