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.