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Social Change and Crime Trajectories

Social Change and Crime Trajectories

Social changes result in otherwise similar individuals ending up in significantly different trajectories

A recent study examines the relationship between social change and trajectories of crime.  Prior research on the origins of criminal offender trajectories, such as chronic arrests, emphasizes personal traits and early-life experiences, but the effects of social change at later stages in life remain unclear. Using data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods and criminal history records from Illinois, Robert Sampson, Roland Neil, and Daniel Nagin examined arrest histories, neighborhood data, and survey data on 1,057 individuals aged 10 to 33 years and originally from Chicago. The data spanned from 1995 to 2020. Compared with individuals born in the 1980s, individuals born in the mid-1990s were less likely to be classified as an offender. Older cohorts were also more likely than younger cohorts to have adolescent-limited or chronic arrest trajectories into adulthood. The results persisted when the authors controlled for demographic characteristics and early-life factors, such as growing up in poverty, that are commonly used to predict crime trajectories. The findings suggest that social changes alter the environments through which different cohorts age, resulting in otherwise similar individuals ending up in significantly different criminal offender trajectories. Furthermore, arrest trajectories reflect shared social environments of various cohorts, highlighting the value of improving such environments through policy, according to the authors.

- This press release was provided by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences