RACE AND CRIME IN POSTWAR AMERICA: DETERMINANTS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND WHITE RATES, 1957–1988*

Authors


  • *

    Address all communication to Gary LaFree, Department of Sociology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131. BITNET: LAFREE UNMB. An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the American Sociological Association Meetings, Cincinnati, 1991. We thank Christopher Birkbeck, Richard Coughlin, Robert Fiala, Thomas Fomby, John Meyer, Neil Mitchell, Gwynne Nettler and several anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

  • Gary LaFree is Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of New Mexico and Director of the New Mexico Statistical Analysis Center. In addition to an ongoing project on crime trends in the postwar United States, he is studying dispute resolution in civil cases.

  • Kriss A. Drass is Associate Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His major areas of interest include research methods, criminology, and the sociology of law. In addition to his work on the analysis of African-American and white crime rates, he is also engaged in research on the court management of litigation involving victims of AIDS.

  • Patrick O'Day is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of New Mexico. His research interests focus generally on the culture of crime and specifically on the cultural dynamics of interracial victimization.

Abstract

The idea that crime and deviance are explained mostly by access to opportunities—especially those provided by employment, income, education, and family stability—is one of the most powerful assumptions about crime in postwar America. However, despite its importance, the actual relationship between opportunity measures and crime during this period remains little understood. while cross-sectional studies of these issues have become common, few longitudinal studies exist and those that do include a limited number of variables. Moreover, despite important differences in the history and experiences of African-Americans and whites during this period, researchers have assumed similar dynamics by race. In this paper, we use annual time-series data from 1957–1988 to examine the effects of economic well-being, educational attainment, and family stability on rates of robbery, burglary, and homicide for blacks and whites. Our results show that these measures have different—usually opposite—effects on black and white crime rates during the period. In general, measures of opportunity have expected effects on white but not black rates. We consider the implications for policy and research.

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