Employment and Crime

VI. Conclusion

The question of the relationship between employment and crime has a long history in criminology and dates back to the earliest studies of crime beginning in the mid-19th century. Empirical criminology has repeatedly confirmed the presence of an inverse correlation between employment and crime, and research that has addressed the selection and feedback problems in a compelling way points to the correlation as a causal one. However, as noted earlier, the strength of the employment–crime correlation is not nearly as impressive as a number of theoretical accounts would suggest. Neither has research successfully pinpointed the precise theoretical mechanism for the correlation. Nevertheless, there is sufficient evidence to date that continued exploration of this relationship is justified that would illuminate the causal pathway.

A handful of more recent studies have endeavored to do just that by considering heterogeneity in the employment– crime relationship. These studies are based on the presumption that employment may not have the same crime control benefits for all members of a population. The population average treatment effect of employment on crime will not be meaningful if it is not representative of the group average treatment effect for any identifiable subgroup in the target population. It could be, in other words, an average over a possibly wide range of subgroup averages. Relatively more recent studies have found that the strength of the employment–crime correlation varies as a function of the aggregate labor market context (Crutchfield & Pitchford, 1997), specific characteristics of the job (Staff & Uggen, 2003), and individuals’ offending history (Apel et al., 2007; Farrington et al., 1986; Thornberry & Christenson, 1984). Studies such as these identify important pathways for further empirical and theoretical exploration.

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