The Age Structure-Crime Rate Relationship: Solving a Long-Standing Puzzle
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Develop the concept of differential institutional engagement and test its ability to explain discrepant findings regarding the relationship between the age structure and homicide rates across ecological studies of crime. We hypothesize that differential degrees of institutional engagement—youths with ties to mainstream social institutions such as school, work or the military on one end of the spectrum and youths without such bonds on the other end—account for the direction of the relationship between homicide rates and age structure (high crime prone ages, such as 15–29).
Cross sectional, Ordinary Least Squares regression analyses using robust standard errors are conducted using large samples of cities characterized by varying degrees of youths’ differential institutional engagement for the years 1980, 1990 and 2000. The concept is operationalized with the percent of the population enrolled in college and the percent of 16–19 year olds who are simultaneously not enrolled in school, not in the labor market (not in the labor force or unemployed), and not in the military.
Consistent and invariant results emerged. Positive effects of age structure on homicide rates are found in cities that have high percentages of disengaged youth and negative effects are found among cities characterized with high percentages of youth participating in mainstream social institutions.
This conceptualization of differential institutional engagement explains the discrepant findings in prior studies, and the findings demonstrate the influence of these contextual effects and the nature of the age structure-crime relationship.
KeywordsHomicide rates Ecological study Cities Age structure
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