Why Did Crime Go Up in Europe While It Was Falling in the U.S.?
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In 1994 in the suburbs of Oxford, England, I had lunch with a half dozen or so colleagues in the marketing research business. It looked like Mr. Darcy’s estate outside, but Grand Theft Auto was the locals’ obsession. The only topic they talked about at lunch for 45 minutes was having their cars stolen. As a Chicagoan for the last dozen years, my stories of having my car windows repeatedly smashed simply couldn’t compete with these suburban Oxfordians who all had had their cars entirely stolen.

There was nothing anomalous about this. While property crimes were already way down in the U.S. and were falling further, much of Europe was plagued by criminality.

Crime in Europe and the United States: Dissecting the ‘Reversal of Misfortunes’

Paolo Buonanno

University of Bergamo – Department of Economics

Francesco Drago

University of Naples Federico II

Roberto Galbiati

CNRS (umr EconomiX) Paris; Bocconi University – Department of Economics

Giulio Zanella

University of Bologna

July 2011

Economic Policy, Vol. 26, Issue 67, pp. 347-385, 2011


Contrary to common perceptions, today both property and violent crimes (with the exception of homicides) are more widespread in Europe than in the United States, while the opposite was true thirty years ago. We label this fact as the ‘reversal of misfortunes’. We investigate what accounts for the reversal by studying the causal impact of demographic changes, incarceration, abortion, unemployment and immigration on crime. For this we use time series data (1970-2008) from seven European countries and the United States. We find that the demographic structure of the population and the incarceration rate are important determinants of crime. Our results suggest that a tougher incarceration policy may be an effective way to contrast crime in Europe. Our analysis does not provide information on how incarceration policy should be made tougher nor does it provide an answer to the question whether such a policy would also be efficient from a cost-benefit point of view. We leave this to future research.

Granted, the four Italian quantitative academics can hardly compete with Ta-Nehisi Coates in official geniushoodness, but the lack of incarceration and the lack of guns in the hands of civilian victims appear to have allowed crime to get out of hand in the late 20th Century in much of Europe.

And here’s a summary of this paper from Urban Economics:

Crime in Europe and in the US: Dissecting the “Reversal of Misfortunes”

By Peter Struckmeyer

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