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Skill-biased Technological Change, Earnings of Unskilled Workers, and Crime


  • Naci H. Mocan
  • Bulent Unel


This paper investigates the impact of unskilled workers' earnings on crime. Following the literature on wage inequality and skill-biased technological change, we employ CPS data to create state-year as well as state-year-and (broad) industry specific measures of skill-biased technological change, which are then used as instruments for unskilled workers' earnings in crime regressions. Regressions that employ state panels reveal that technology-induced variations in unskilled workers' earnings impact property crime with an elasticity of -1, but that wages have no impact on violent crime. The paper also estimates, for the first time in this literature, structural crime equations using micro panel data from NLSY97 and instrumenting real wages of young workers. Using state-year-industry specific technology shocks as instruments yields elasticities that are in the neighborhood of -2 for most types of crime, which is markedly larger than previous estimates. In both data sets there is evidence for asymmetric impact of unskilled workers' earnings on crime. A decline in earnings has a larger effect on crime in comparison to an increase in earnings by the same absolute value.

Suggested Citation

  • Naci H. Mocan & Bulent Unel, 2011. "Skill-biased Technological Change, Earnings of Unskilled Workers, and Crime," NBER Working Papers 17605, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17605
    Note: CH HE LE LS

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    4. Antonio Ciccone & Giovanni Peri, 2005. "Long-Run Substitutability Between More and Less Educated Workers: Evidence from U.S. States, 1950-1990," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(4), pages 652-663, November.
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    8. Jenny Williams & Robin C. Sickles, 2002. "An Analysis of the Crime as Work Model: Evidence from the 1958 Philadelphia Birth Cohort Study," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 37(3), pages 479-509.
    9. 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.
    10. Ming-Jen Lin, 2008. "Does Unemployment Increase Crime?: Evidence from U.S. Data 1974–2000," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(2), pages 413-436.
    11. Wright, Robert E & Ermisch, John F, 1991. "Gender Discrimination in the British Labour Market: A Reassessment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 101(406), pages 508-522, May.
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    13. David S. Lee, 1999. "Wage Inequality in the United States During the 1980s: Rising Dispersion or Falling Minimum Wage?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 977-1023.
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    Cited by:

    1. Stephen Machin & Olivier Marie & Sunčica Vujić, 2012. "Youth Crime and Education Expansion," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 13(4), pages 366-384, November.
    2. William Harbaugh & Naci Mocan & Michael Visser, 2013. "Theft and Deterrence," Journal of Labor Research, Springer, vol. 34(4), pages 389-407, December.
    3. Mocan, Naci & Raschke, Christian & Unel, Bulent, 2015. "The impact of mothers’ earnings on health inputs and infant health," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 19(C), pages 204-223.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J23 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Demand
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights

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