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The L.A. Riot and the Economics of Urban Unrest


  • Denise DiPasquale
  • Edward L. Glaeser


The Los Angeles riot of 1992 resulted in 52 deaths, 2,500 injuries and at least $446 million in property damage; this staggering toll rekindled interest in understanding the underlying causes of the widespread social phenomenon of rioting. We examine the causes of rioting using international data, evidence from the race riots of the 1960s in the U.S., and Census data on Los Angeles, 1990. We find some support for the notions that the opportunity costs of time and the potential costs of punishment influence the incidence and intensity of riots. Beyond these individual costs and benefits, community structure matters. In our results, ethnic diversity seems a significant determinant of rioting, while we find little evidence that poverty in the community matters.

Suggested Citation

  • Denise DiPasquale & Edward L. Glaeser, 1996. "The L.A. Riot and the Economics of Urban Unrest," NBER Working Papers 5456, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5456
    Note: LS

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Alesina, Alberto & Perotti, Roberto, 1996. "Income distribution, political instability, and investment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(6), pages 1203-1228, June.
    3. Takayama,Akira, 1985. "Mathematical Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521314985, May.
    4. Robert J. Barro, 1991. "Economic Growth in a Cross Section of Countries," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(2), pages 407-443.
    5. Alberto F. Ades & Edward L. Glaeser, 1995. "Trade and Circuses: Explaining Urban Giants," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(1), pages 195-227.
    6. Grossman, Herschel I, 1991. "A General Equilibrium Model of Insurrections," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(4), pages 912-921, September.
    7. Timur Kuran, 1989. "Sparks and prairie fires: A theory of unanticipated political revolution," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 61(1), pages 41-74, April.
    8. Paolo Mauro, 1995. "Corruption and Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(3), pages 681-712.
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    Cited by:

    1. Mark Gradstein & Moshe Justman, 2002. "Education, Social Cohesion, and Economic Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1192-1204, September.
    2. Gradstein, Mark & Justman, Moshe, 2005. "The melting pot and school choice," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 871-896, June.
    3. DiPasquale, Denise & Glaeser, Edward L., 1998. "The Los Angeles Riot and the Economics of Urban Unrest," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 52-78, January.
    4. Gradstein, Mark & Justman, Moshe, 2001. "Public Education and the Melting Pot," CEPR Discussion Papers 2924, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    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
    • J78 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Public Policy (including comparable worth)


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