Why Is There More Crime in Cities?
NBER Working Paper No. 5430
Crime rates are much higher in big cities than in either small cities or rural areas, and this situation has been relatively pervasive for several centuries. This paper attempts to explain this connection by using victimization data, evidence from the NLSY on criminal behavior and the Uniform Crime Reports. Higher pecuniary benefits for crime in large cities can explain approximately 27% of the effect for overall crime, though obviously much less of the urban- crime connection for non-pecuniary crimes such as rape or assault. Lower arrest probabilities, and lower probability of recognition, are a feature of urban life, but these factors seem to explain at most 20% of the urban crime effect. The remaining 45-60% of the effect can be related to observable characteristics of individuals and cities. The characteristics that seem most important are those that reflect tastes, social influences and family structure. Ultimately, we can say that the urban crime premium is associated with these characteristics, but we are left trying to explain why these characteristics are connected with urban living.
Published: Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 107, no. 6, part 2 (December 1999): S225-S258.