Statistical correlations of criminal behaviour

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The field of criminology studies the frequency and dynamics of crime. Most of these studies use correlational data; that is, they attempt to identify various factors which tend to be related to the frequency of different categories of crime behavior. From such correlational studies, a large number of theories have been proposed for explaining the causes of these crimes. Such attempts to identify specific causes of crime must be read very critically since correlation does not imply causation.

The Handbook of Crime Correlates (2009) is a systematic review of 5200 empirical studies on crime which have been published in the worldwide academic literature. A crime consistency score is used to represent the degree of relationship among the factors which were studied. The scoring depends on how consistently a statistically significant relationship was identified. The authors argue that the review summaries most of what is currently known about the variables associated with criminality.[1]

Gender and biology[edit]

Crime occurs most frequently during the second and third decades of life.[1] Males commit more crime overall, and, in particular, violent crime than females. They commit more property crime except shoplifting, which is about equally distributed between the genders. Males appear to be more likely to recidivate.[1] Measures related to arousal such as heart rate and skin conductance are low among criminals.[1] Mesomorphic or muscular body type is positively correlated with criminality, in particular with sexual crimes.[1] Testosterone is positively correlated to criminal behavior.[1]

When controlling for age and sex, there are strong genetic correlates with criminality. Low monoamine oxidase activity and low 5-HIAA levels tend to be found among criminals.[1] Monoamine oxidase A (dubbed the "warrior gene" in the popular press) is strongly tied to an increased tendency towards violent crime. In addition, CDH13, a gene previously tied to an increased risk of substance abuse, has been tied to increased tendencies to violent crime.[2] These tendencies are ostensibly correlated, as the majority of all individuals who commit severe violent crime in Finland do so under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The researchers emphasized that the presence of the genetic profile does not predetermine whether a given individual will commit crimes; it merely suggests the increased likelihood of delinquency in cases where environmental factors are also conductive to criminal behaviour. Dr Ferguson [of Stetson University, Florida stated:] 'Studies like this really document that a large percentage of our behaviour in terms of violence or aggression is influenced by our biology - our genes - and our brain anatomy.' [...] Jan Schnupp at the University of Oxford [stated]: 'To call these alleles "genes for violence" would therefore be a massive exaggeration. In combination with many other factors these genes may make it a little harder for you to control violent urges, but they most emphatically do not predetermine you for a life of crime.'

Race, ethnicity, and immigration[edit]

There is a relationship between race and crime.[1] Ethnically/racially diverse geographical areas have higher crime rates compared to ethnically/racially homogeneous areas.[1] Most studies on immigrants have found higher rates of crime among these populations; however, these rates vary greatly depending on the country of origin with immigrants from some regions having lower crime rates than the indigenous population.[1]

Early life[edit]

Maternal smoking during pregnancy is associated with later criminality. Low birth weight and perinatal trauma/birth complications may be more prevalent among criminals.[1][3] Child maltreatment, low parent-child attachment, marital discord/family discord, alcoholism and drug use in the family, and low parental supervision/monitoring are correlated with criminality. Larger family size and later birth order are also associated with criminal behavior.[1] Nocturnal enuresis or bed wetting correlates with criminality.[1] Bullying is positively related to criminal behavior.[1] School disciplinary problems, truancy, low grade point average, and dropping out of high school are associated with criminality.[1] Childhood lead exposure correlates with criminal activity approximately twenty years later.[4]

Adult behavior[edit]

High alcohol use, alcohol abuse, and alcoholism, as well as high illegal drug use and dependence are positively related to criminality.[1] Early age of first intercourse and the frequency of sexual partners are associated with criminality.[1] Social isolation, the association with criminal friends, and gang membership correlate positively with criminality.[1]


A few studies have found a negative correlation between religiosity and criminality. A 2001 meta-analysis by Colin Baier and Bradley Wright found that, in general, "religious beliefs and behaviors exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals' criminal behavior".[5] An individual with high religious saliency (i.e. expressing the high importance of religion in their life) is less likely to be associated with criminal activities; similarly, an individual who regularly attends religious services or is highly involved in them will be less involved in criminality, with the exception of property damage.[6] Other meta-analysis research suggests that those who subscribe to more orthodox religious beliefs are less likely to engage in criminal behavior than those who do not.[7] Participation in religious activities can be an inhibitor of adult crime.[8]

A 1997 study by Brent Benda concluded that there were no statistically significant negative correlations between religiosity and crime, or religiosity and drug use, and only the relationship between religiosity and alcohol was statistically significant.[9] A more recent review of studies on this topic by Phil Zuckerman concludes that there is not enough data to indicate any correlation between religiosity, secularism, and crime.[10] Furthermore, studies showing that participation in religious activities can inhibit adult crime fail to ascertain what mechanism is causing the reduction, which is important because it is reasonable to assume that participation in any organized social activity would also inhibit adult crime.

Psychological traits[edit]

Childhood conduct disorder and adult antisocial personality disorder are associated with one another and criminal behavior.[1][11] Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder correlates positively with criminality.[1] Minor depression and probably clinical depression is more likely among offenders. Depression in the family is associated with criminality. Criminals are more likely to be suicidal.[1] Schizophrenia and criminality appear to be positively correlated.[1][12]

The American Psychological Association's 1995 report Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns stated that the correlation between IQ and crime was -0.2. In his book The g Factor (1998), Arthur Jensen cited data which showed that, regardless of race, people with IQs between 70 and 90 have higher crime rates than people with IQs below or above this range, with the peak range being between 80 and 90. A learning disability is a substantial discrepancy between IQ and academic performance. It has a relationship to criminal behavior. Slow reading development may be particularly relevant.[1]

Several personality traits are associated with criminality: High impulsivity, high psychoticism, high sensation-seeking, low self control, high aggression in childhood, and low empathy and altruism.[1]

Socioeconomic factors[edit]

Higher total socioeconomic status (usually measured using the three variables income (or wealth), occupational level, and years of education) correlate with less crime. Longer education is associated with less crime. Higher income/wealth have a somewhat inconsistent correlation with less crime with the exception of self-report illegal drug use for which there is no relation. Higher parental socioeconomic status probably has an inverse relationship with crime.[1]

High frequency of changing jobs and high frequency of unemployment for a person correlate with criminality.[1]

Somewhat inconsistent evidence indicates that there is a relationship between low income, percentage under the poverty line, few years of education, and high income inequality in an area and more crime in the area.[1]

The relationship between the state of the economy and crime rates is inconsistent among the studies. The same for differences in unemployment between different regions and crime rates. There is a slight tendency in the majority of the studies for higher unemployment rate to be positively associated with crime rates.[1]

Geographic factors[edit]

Cities or counties with larger populations have higher crime rates. Poorly maintained neighborhoods correlate with higher crime rates. High residential mobility is associated with a higher crime rate. More taverns and alcohol stores, as well as more gambling and tourist establishments, in an area are positively related to criminality.[1]

There appears to be higher crime rates in the geographic regions of a country that are closer to the equator.[1] Crime rates vary with temperature depending on both short-term weather and season. The relationship between the hotter months of summer and a peak in rape and assault seems to be almost universal. For other crimes there are also seasonal or monthly patterns but they are more inconsistent across nations. On the other hand, for climate, there is a higher crime rate in the southern US but this largely disappears after non-climatic factors are controlled for.[13]

Children whose parents did not want to have a child are more likely to grow to be delinquents or commit crimes.[3] Such children are also less likely to succeed in school, and are more likely to live in poverty.[3] They also tend to have lower mother-child relationship quality.[14] Children whose births were unintended are likely to be less mentally and physically healthy during childhood.[15]

Victims and fear of crime[edit]

Risk of being a crime victim is highest for teens through mid 30s and lowest for the elderly. Fear of crime shows the opposite pattern. Criminals are more often crime victims. Females fear crimes more than males. Black Americans appear to fear crime more. Black people are more often victims, especially of murder.[1]

Biosocial criminology[edit]

Biosocial criminology is an interdisciplinary field that aims to explain crime and antisocial behavior by exploring both biological factors and environmental factors. While contemporary criminology has been dominated by sociological theories, biosocial criminology also recognizes the potential contributions of fields such as genetics, neuropsychology, and evolutionary psychology.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Lee Ellis; Kevin M. Beaver; John Wright (1 April 2009). Handbook of Crime Correlates. Academic Press. ISBN 9780123736123. 
  2. ^ J. Tiihonen et al., "Genetic background of extreme violent behavior", Molecular Psychiatry (28 October 2014), doi:10.1038/mp.2014.130.
  3. ^ a b c Monea J, Thomas A (June 2011). "Unintended pregnancy and taxpayer spending". Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 43: 88–93. doi:10.1363/4308811. PMID 21651707. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ BAIER, C. J. (2001). ""If You Love Me, Keep My Commandments": A Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Religion on Crime". Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 38 (1): 3–21. doi:10.1177/0022427801038001001. 
  6. ^ Ellis, Beaver & Wright 2009, p. 108.
  7. ^ Ellis, Beaver & Wright 2009, p. 112.
  8. ^ EVANS, T. DAVID (1995). "RELIGION AND CRIME REEXAMINED: THE IMPACT OF RELIGION, SECULAR CONTROLS, AND SOCIAL ECOLOGY ON ADULT CRIMINALITY*". Criminology 33 (2): 195–224. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.1995.tb01176.x. 
  9. ^ BENDA, B. B. (1997). "An Examination of a Reciprocal Relationship Between Religiosity and Different Forms of Delinquency Within a Theoretical Model". Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 34 (2): 163–186. doi:10.1177/0022427897034002001. 
  10. ^ Zuckerman, Phil. .doi:10.1111/j.1751-9020.2009.00247.x Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions in: Sociology Compass 3/6 (2009): 949–971, p. 955 Retrieved August 8, 2013
  11. ^ James Q. Wilson; Joan Petersilia (2002). Crime: public policies for crime control. ICS Press. ISBN 9781558155091. 
  12. ^ Fazel, S.; Grann, M. (2006). "The Population Impact of Severe Mental Illness on Violent Crime". American Journal of Psychiatry 163 (8): 1397–1403. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.8.1397. PMID 16877653. 
  13. ^ J. Mitchell Miller (18 August 2009). 21st Century Criminology: A Reference Handbook. Sage. p. 57. ISBN 9781412960199. 
  14. ^ "Family Planning – Healthy People 2020". Retrieved 2011-08-18. Which cites:
    • Logan C, Holcombe E, Manlove J, et al. (2007 May [cited 2009 Mar 3]). "The consequences of unintended childbearing: A white paper" (PDF). Washington: Child Trends, Inc.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
    • Cheng D, Schwarz E, Douglas E, et al. (March 2009). "Unintended pregnancy and associated maternal preconception, prenatal and postpartum behaviors". Contraception 79 (3): 194-8. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2008.09.009. PMID 19185672. 
    • Kost K, Landry D, Darroch J. (Mar–Apr 1998). "Predicting maternal behaviors during pregnancy: Does intention status matter?". Fam Plann Perspectives 30 (2): 79-88. doi:10.2307/2991664. PMID 9561873. 
    • D'Angelo, D, Colley Gilbert B, Rochat R; et al. (Sep–Oct 2004). "Differences between mistimed and unwanted pregnancies among women who have live births.". Perspect Sex Reprod Health 36 (5): 192-7. doi:10.1363/3619204. PMID 15519961.  
  15. ^ Logan C, Holcombe E, Manlove J, et al. (2007 May [cited 2009 Mar 3]). "The consequences of unintended childbearing: A white paper" (PDF). Washington: Child Trends, Inc.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  16. ^ Kevin M. Beaver and Anthony Walsh. 2011. Biosocial Criminology. Chapter 1 in The Ashgate Research Companion to Biosocial Theories of Crime. 2011. Ashgate.