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Link between economy and crime rates has broken down, new research finds

Published: 
21 September 2015

The assumption that rising unemployment, leads to rising crime, is being challenged by new research from the UK universities of Southampton and Sheffield and the French university SciencesPo.

Professor Will Jennings presented the research at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.
Professor Will Jennings

Their study has found that the relationship between the economy and crime rates has varied over time. Specifically, researchers discovered that the association between unemployment and property crime – which was strong in the 1970s and 1980s – weakened after 1995 and became non-existent by 2005. These findings help to shed light on why the recorded crime rate did not rise following the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Southampton, Will Jennings, recently presented the findings in full at an event at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. He comments: “The evidence covering the past decade suggests the link between the economic cycle and crime rates has broken down, particularly in relation to unemployment rates.

“We cannot be sure why fluctuations in economic conditions no longer predict the sorts of changes in recorded crime rates they used to. It may be due to differences between the sorts of economic shocks experienced by the UK in the 1970s and 1980s compared to today. It could be because of changes in the labour market dampening the effects of recent economic downturns – or it could also be due to trends in crime prevention measures, such as growth in use of burglar alarms, CCTV and car immobilisers.”

The researchers conducted the study by using time series modelling of data on the official unemployment rate and recorded property crime rate, testing how the relationship has varied from the 1940s to the present day.

The research is part of the wider project ‘Long-term trajectories of crime in the UK’ funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, says: “This research demonstrates the importance of revisiting the past to understand the present. There is no iron law that explains rises and falls in the official crime rate. This important research challenges common sense notions that unemployment and economic shocks inevitably mean rises in property crime.”

Other research highlighted at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies event looked at changes in domestic property crime patterns during the 1980s and 1990s, presented by Professor Stephen Farrall of the University of Sheffield. Dr Emily Gray, also from Sheffield presented findings on changing social attitudes to crime and punishment across the generations.

Find more information here.

Politics and International Relations at Southampton

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