Status-Seeking in Criminal Subcultures and the Double Dividend of Zero-Tolerance


  • Robert Dur, Department of Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam; Tinbergen Institute; CESifo; and IZA (  Joël J. van der Weele, Department of Economics, Goethe University Frankfurt (

  • We gratefully acknowledge comments on an earlier version by two anonymous referees, an associate editor, Josse Delfgaauw, Jeffrey Fagan, Chaim Fershtman, Stefano Ficco, Patricia Funk, Gerrit de Geest, Amihai Glazer, Maarten Goos, Vladimir Karamychev, Panu Poutvaara, Mikael Priks, Hein Roelfsema, Otto Swank, Ben Vollaard, seminar audiences in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and participants to the 2006 CESifo Area Conference on Public Sector Economics in Munich and the 2006 Econometric Society European Meeting in Vienna. We thank Veerle Witte for making the figure.


This paper offers a new argument for why a more aggressive enforcement of minor offenses (zero-tolerance) may yield a double dividend in that it reduces both minor offenses and more severe crime. We develop a model of criminal subcultures in which people gain social status among their peers for being “tough” by committing criminal acts. As zero-tolerance keeps relatively “gutless” people from committing a minor offense, the signaling value of that action increases, which makes it attractive for some people who would otherwise commit more severe crime. If social status is sufficiently important in criminal subcultures, zero-tolerance reduces crime across the board.