Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 489–513 | Cite as

What Kind of Joblessness Affects Crime? A National Case–Control Study of Serious Property Crime

Original Paper



To assess whether joblessness affects the commission of serious property crime.


We studied serious property crime, applying a case–control design to nationally representative samples of (a) known serious property crime offenders and (b) nonoffenders. This was done by comparing a national sample of prison inmates convicted of robbery or burglary (the “cases”) with a general sample of the U.S. adult population (the “controls”). In contrast to prior individual-level research, the study sample included substantial numbers of serious offenders, and provided a formal basis for generalizing the findings to the U.S. adult population. We differentiated five labor force statuses: (1) unemployed (according to the official government definition), (2) underemployed, (3) out of the labor force for widely socially accepted reasons (OLFL), (4) out of the labor force for reasons not widely accepted (OLFN), and (5) fully employed.


We found that when these distinctions are made, people are not more likely to engage in burglary or robbery when they are either completely unemployed or underemployed according to the official definitions. Instead, it is being out of the labor force for reasons not widely accepted as legitimate that is significantly and positively related to serious property offending.


The results suggest that offending among jobless persons may reflect preexisting differences in criminal propensity among those who stay out of the labor force, rather than effects of joblessness per se. Part-time work is associated with significantly less property crime, perhaps because the willingness to accept even part-time jobs serves as an indicator of commitment to pro-social attitudes.


Unemployment and crime Labor force Property crime 


  1. Aaltonen M, Kivivuori J, Martikainen P (2011) Social determinants of crime in a welfare state: do they still matter? Acta Sociol 54:161–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aaltonen M, MacDonald JM, Martikainen P, Kivivuori J (2013) Examining the generality of the unemployment–crime association. Criminology 51:561–594CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Agnew R (1992) Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology 30:47–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Apel R, Bushway SD, Paternoster R, Brame R, Sweeten G (2008) Using state child labor laws to identify the causal effect of youth employment on deviant behavior and academic achievement. J Quant Criminol 24:337–362CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Chiricos T (1987) Rates of crime and unemployment: an analysis of aggregate research. Soc Probl 34:187–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clark JP, Tifft L (1966) Polygraph and interview validation of self-reported deviant behavior. Am Sociol Rev 31:516–523CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Cohen L, Felson M (1979) Social change and crime rate trends: a routine activities approach. Am Sociol Rev 44:588–608CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cornish DB, Clarke R (2006) The rational choice perspective. In: Cornish DB, Clarke R (eds) The essential criminology reader. Westview, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  9. Crutchfield RD, Pitchford SR (1997) Work and crime: the effects of labor stratification. Soc Forces 76:93–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fagan J, Freeman RB (1999) Crime and Work. In: Michael T (ed) Crime and justice: a review of research, vol 25. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  11. Farnworth M, Thornberry TP, Krohn MD, Lizotte A (1994) Measurement in the study of class and delinquency.  J Res Crime Delinq 31:32–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Farrington DP (2003) What has been learned from self-reports about criminal careers and the causes of offending? Home office on line report. London: Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate.
  13. Farrington DP, Gallagher B, Morley L, St. Ledger RJ, West DJ (1986) Unemployment, school leaving, and crime. Br J Criminol 26:335–356Google Scholar
  14. Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ, Woodward LJ (2001) Unemployment and psychosocial adjustment in young adults: causation or selection? Soc Sci Med 53:305–320CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Gottfredson MR, Hirschi T (1990) A general theory of crime. Stanford University Press, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  16. Greenberger E, Steinberg L (1986) When teenagers work: the psychological and social costs of adolescent employment. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Grogger J (1998) Market wages and youth crime. J Labor Econ 16:756–791CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harrison LD (1995) Validity of self-reported data on drug use. J Drug Issues 25:91–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hay C, Forrest W (2006) Development of self-control: examining self-control theory’s stability thesis. Criminology 44(4):739CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hirschi T (1969) Causes of delinquency. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  21. Huiras J, Uggen C, McMorris B (2000) Career jobs, survival jobs, and employee deviance.  Sociol Quart 41:245–263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kleck G, Chiricos T (2002) Unemployment and property crime: a target-specific assessment of opportunity and motivation as mediating factors. Criminology 40(3):649–680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Laub JH, Sampson RJ (2003) Shared beginnings, divergent lives: delinquent boys to age 70. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  24. McMorris B, Uggen C (2000) Alcohol and employment in the transition to adulthood. J Health Soc Behav 41:276–294CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Messner S, Rosenfeld R (2001) Crime and the American Dream, 3rd edn. Wadsworth, BelmontGoogle Scholar
  26. Mihalic SW, Elliott D (1997) Short- and long-term consequences of adolescent work. Youth Soc 28:464–498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mustard D (2010) How do labor markets affect crime? New Evidence on an Old Puzzle, IZA Discussion Paper No. 4856. Institute for the Study of Labor, Bonn, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  28. Na C, Paternoster R (2012) Can self-control change substantially over time?: Rethinking the relationship between self-and social control. Criminology 50(2):427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. National Opinion Research Center (2014) General social survey website, at Accessed 2 May 2014
  30. Ploeger M (1997) Youth employment and delinquency: reconsidering a problematic relationship. Criminology 35:659–675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pulkkinen L, Lyyra A-L, Kokko K (2009) Life success of males on nonoffenders, adolescence-limited, persistent and adult-onset antisocial pathways. Aggress Behav 35:117–135CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Ruschoff B, Tina K, Dijkstra JK, Veenstra R (2014) The development of delinquency in adolescence. In: Weerman F, Bijleveld C (eds) Criminal behavior from school to the workplace. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  33. Schlesselman JJ (1982) Case-control studies: design, conduct, analysis. Oxford, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  34. Skardhamar T, Savolainen J (2014) Changes in criminal offending around the time of job entry. Criminology 52:263–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Smith TW, Marsden PV, Hout M (2011) General social survey, 19722010 [Cumulative File]. ICPSR31521-v1. Storrs, CT: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut/Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributors]Google Scholar
  36. Staff J, Uggen C (2003) The fruits of good work: early work experiences and adolescent deviance. J Res Crime Delinq 40:263–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Staff J, Osgood DW, Schulenberg JE, Bachman JG, Messersmith EE (2010) Explaining the relationship between employment and juvenile delinquency. Criminology 48:1101–1131CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  38. Steinberg L, Dornbusch SM (1991) Negative correlates of part-time employment during adolescence: replication and elaboration. Dev Psychol 27:304–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stouthamer-Loeber M, Wei E, Loeber R, Masten AS (2004) Desistance from persistent serious delinquency in the transition to adulthood. Dev Psychopathol 16:897–918CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Thornberry TP, Christenson RL (1984) Unemployment and criminal involvement: an investigation of reciprocal causal structures. Am Sociol Rev 49:398–411CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Thornberry TP, Krohn MD (2000) The self-report method for measuring delinquency and crime. In: Duffee D (ed) Measurement and analysis of crime and justice. Criminal justice 2000, vol 4. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  42. Tourangeau R, Yan T (2007) Sensitive questions in surveys. Psychol Bull 133:859–883CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Uggen C (2000) Work as a turning point in the life course of criminals. Am Sociol Rev 67:529–546CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (2014) BJS website at Accessed 2 May 2014
  45. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012a) BLS website at Labor force statistics from the current population survey, frequently asked questions. Accessed 24 June 2012
  46. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012b) BLS website at, Labor force statistics from the current population survey, Table 31. Accessed 28 June 2012
  47. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (2007) Survey of inmates in state and federal correctional facilities, 2004. ICPSR04572-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research [producer and distributor]Google Scholar
  48. U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (2012) Crime in the United States2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. FBI website at Accessed 28 June 2012
  49. U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (2014) Crime in the United States2000. FBI website at, Tables 23 and 38. Accessed 2 May 2014
  50. van der Geest VR, Buleveld CCJH, Blokland AAJ (2011) The effects of employment on longitudinal trajectories of offending. Criminology 49:1195–1233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Verbruggen J, Blokland AAJ, van der Geest VR (2012) Effects of employment and unemployment on serious offending in a high-risk sample of men and women from ages 18 to 32 in the Netherlands. Br J Criminol 52:845–869CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Verbruggen J, Apel R, van der Geest VR, Blokland AA (2015) Work, income support, and crime in the dutch welfare state: a longitudinal study following vulnerable youth into adulthood. Criminol Online First. doi:10.1111/1745-9125.12080 Google Scholar
  53. Wadsworth T (2006) The meaning of work: conceptualizing the deterrent effect of employment on crime among young adults. Sociol Perspect 49:342–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wright JP, Cullen FT, Williams N (1997) Working while in school and delinquent involvement: implications for social policy. Crime Delinq 43:203–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Criminology and Criminal JusticeFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

Personalised recommendations