Incarceration Nation Part Four—Where are the Criminal Echo Boomers?


Can't have too many posts in one day on incarceration rates, can one? Of course not, so here's a fourth. This one is inspired by a chat yesterday with Washington Post futurist Joel Garreau. It just so happens in conversation with several of us reasoners the topic of fallen crime rates came up. Garreau mentioned the possibility that U.S. crime rates will increase because the number of young males in the population has been rising as the result of the Echo Boom. Crime being notoriously a young man's game, that's a sensible suggestion. Looking again at the DOJ crime rate statistics to which I linked in my first post, we find in general that crime rates peaked in the late 1980s and began to decline.

Economist Steven Levitt famously made the argument that

…legalized abortion has contributed signi?cantly to recent crime reductions. Crime began to fall roughly eighteen years after abortion legalization. The ?five states that allowed abortion in 1970 experienced declines earlier than the rest of the nation, which legalized in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. States with high abortion rates in the 1970s and 1980s experienced greater crime reductions in the 1990s. In high abortion states, only arrests of those born after abortion legalization fall relative to low abortion states. Legalized abortion appears to account for as much as 50 percent of the recent drop in crime.

The Echo Boom occurred between 1982 to 1995 and so the first cohort turned 18 in 2000. In the DOJ statistics we find that the crime rate basically stopped dropping around 2000. However crime rates have also not gone up much even though about half of Echo Boomers are now over age 18.

If crime rates do not increase much over the next few years, Levitt could reasonably argue that his abortion/crime link has been strengthened. In other words, crime may not be correlated with just the number of young males in the population, but is perhaps more strongly correlated with number of "unwanted" young males in the population.

NEXT: Money for Nothing

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  1. So I am the first of the Echo Boom?

    Cool, I guess…

  2. Taktix: Have you done your part to push up crime rates again? 😉

  3. My rates of crime have stayed pretty steady for the last 15 years or so.

  4. Ron,

    I told you, I had nothing to do with that incident in Oklahoma. I was white supremacists, and maybe Al-Queda…

  5. It was…

    Dammit. I’m too close to 5 p.m. to be funny online.

    But Ron, I will do my part this weekend, when my band will rock so hard, it should be illegal.

    Peace out, Reasonites.


  6. Which band member are you? Christy?

  7. Oh, I almost forgot, we’ll be playing a Medical Marijuana Benefit on March 28th.

    More details to come.

    Reason folk, I don’t know if you sponsor stuff, but it’s for a good cause, and my real email can be reached by clicking my name (minus the “NOSPAM” part, of course).

  8. But what of the economic disaster we have now resulting from tens of millions of future taxpayers being terminated prior to their reciept of the moniker “human being?”

  9. crime may not be correlated with just the number of young males in the population, but is perhaps more strongly correlated with number of “unwanted” young males in the population.

    So, would you call this Free Market Eugenics?

  10. If you look at a chart provided on this site, you can immediately see problems with Levitt’s theory (disclosure: a theory which I’ve had trouble with since the first time I came across it).

    Abortion wasn’t legal until ’70-’73, yet crime wasn’t already at an all-time high.

    Ever since my 1999 debate with Levitt in, Levitt’s fans have been telling me that my simpleminded little graphs and ratios of national-level crime trends showing, for example, that the teen homicide rate tripled in the first cohort born after Roe v. Wade couldn’t possibly be right because Levitt’s econometric state-level analysis was so much more gloriously, glamorously, incomprehensibly complicated than mine, and Occam’s Butterknife says that the guy with the most convoluted argument wins.

    I’ve postulated before, and I’ll do so again, that Levitt’s theories are attractive because they’re so appealing to people with a political axe to grind. Any researcher who criticizes Levitt’s research who may have ever held an opinion skeptical of abortion will of course be branded as “dishonest” and likewise for Levitt’s supporters. It’s a hot potato, to be sure.

    People who are against abortion are of course going to reel backwards and scream “no way!!!” and people for abortion are going to glom onto this research and say “ha!!! we told you so”. My problem with Levitt’s research is that it’s too much correlation = causation. There are many factors which Levitt’s research didn’t take into account (sex selection in abortion; economic conditions; access to welfare etc.). In past threads where I’ve argued this, I still contend that legalized abortion may have had a detectable affect on the rise in crime and subsequent drop in crime, but to credit legalized abortion with the drop in crime in any kind of seamless way is highly dubious.

  11. Looks like less unwanted young men means less “wanted” young men.

  12. What site, Paul?

  13. …Breakin’ the law,
    Breakin’ the law…

  14. The abortion rate is falling and I imagine the same objective could be acomplished with widespread contraception. I think he’s just trying to get peoples goad by showing how high and mighty amoral he is by pushing widespread abortion instead of other mass contraception programs that could have similar results of keeping poor families small and manageable.

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