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Is Crime Contagious?

  • Jeffrey R. Kling

    (Princeton University and NBER)

  • Jens Ludwig

    (Georgetown University and NBER)

We test the hypothesis that criminal behavior is “contagious” – or susceptible to what economists term “endogenous effects” – by examining the extent to which lower local-area crime rates decrease arrest rates among individuals. Using data from the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) randomized housing-mobility experiment, in operation since 1994 in five U.S. cities, we exploit the fact that the effect of treatment group assignment yields different types of neighborhood changes across the five demonstration sites and use treatment-site interactions to instrument for measures of post-randomization neighborhood crime rates as well as neighborhood poverty or racial segregation in analysis of individual arrest outcomes. We find no evidence that violence is contagious; neighborhood racial segregation appears to be the most important explanation for across-neighborhood variation in arrests for violent crimes. Our only evidence for contagion comes with less serious crimes. Some estimates suggest an effect for males, but these results are imprecise. We also find evidence that young males are more likely to engage in property crimes when violent crimes are relatively more prevalent within the community. These findings are consistent with a “resource swamping” model in which increases in the prevalence of more serious crimes dilutes the police resources available for deterring less serious crimes.

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Paper provided by Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies. in its series Working Papers with number 85.

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Date of creation: Oct 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:pri:cepsud:117kling
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  1. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote & Jose A. Scheinkman, 1995. "Crime and Social Interactions," NBER Working Papers 5026, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  3. Ludwig, Jens & Kling, Jeffrey R., 2006. "Is Crime Contagious?," IZA Discussion Papers 2213, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  9. Lance Lochner & Enrico Moretti, 2004. "The Effect of Education on Crime: Evidence from Prison Inmates, Arrests, and Self-Reports," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(1), pages 155-189, March.
  10. Edgar O. Olsen, 2003. "Housing Programs for Low-Income Households," NBER Chapters, in: Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States, pages 365-442 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Sah, Raaj K, 1991. "Social Osmosis and Patterns of Crime," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(6), pages 1272-95, December.
  12. Jinyong Hahn & Jerry Hausman, 2002. "A New Specification Test for the Validity of Instrumental Variables," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(1), pages 163-189, January.
  13. Caroline Hoxby, 2000. "Peer Effects in the Classroom: Learning from Gender and Race Variation," NBER Working Papers 7867, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Angrist, Joshua & Lavy, Victor & Schlosser, Analia, 2006. "New Evidence on the Causal Link between the Quantity and Quality of Children," IZA Discussion Papers 2075, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  15. Luttmer, Erzo F. P., 2004. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," Working Paper Series rwp04-029, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  16. Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig & Sudhir Venkatesh & Anthony A. Braga, 2005. "Underground Gun Markets," NBER Working Papers 11737, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Bruce Sacerdote, 2000. "Peer Effects with Random Assignment: Results for Dartmouth Roommates," NBER Working Papers 7469, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Harrison Hong & Jeffrey D. Kubik & Jeremy C. Stein, 2001. "Social Interaction and Stock-Market Participation," NBER Working Papers 8358, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Anne C. Case & Lawrence F. Katz, 1991. "The Company You Keep: The Effects of Family and Neighborhood on Disadvantaged Youths," NBER Working Papers 3705, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Donohue, John J, III & Levitt, Steven D, 1998. "Guns, Violence, and the Efficiency of Illegal Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(2), pages 463-67, May.
  21. Paul J. Devereux & Sandra E. Black & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2005. "The more the merrier? The effect of family size and birth order on children's education," Open Access publications 10197/310, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
  22. Levitt, Steven D, 1997. "Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 270-90, June.
  23. Isaac Ehrlich, 1996. "Crime, Punishment, and the Market for Offenses," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 43-67, Winter.
  24. Steven D. Levitt, 1997. "Juvenile Crime and Punishment," NBER Working Papers 6191, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  25. Jeffrey R. Kling & Jens Ludwig & Lawrence F. Katz, 2004. "Neighborhood Effects on Crime for Female and Male Youth: Evidence from a Randomized Housing Voucher Experiment," NBER Working Papers 10777, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  26. Jeffrey R. Kling & Jeffrey B. Liebman & Lawrence F. Katz, 2005. "Experimental Analysis of Neighborhood Effects," NBER Working Papers 11577, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  27. Steven D. Levitt, 2002. "Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effects of Police on Crime: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1244-1250, September.
  28. Stephen G. Donald & Kevin Lang, 2007. "Inference with Difference-in-Differences and Other Panel Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(2), pages 221-233, May.
  29. Hong, Harrison & Kacperczyk, Marcin, 2009. "The price of sin: The effects of social norms on markets," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(1), pages 15-36, July.
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