Monday, October 23, 2006

No surprise: poor people steal the most: Continuing our look at the International Crime Victimization Survey, are the rates of property crime the highest in poor countries or wealthy countries? According to rational choice theory, crime pays more and more as one's legal opportunities for income are diminished. By contrast, routine activities theory claims that property crimes will flourish in places where desirable targets are abundant. A lot is stolen because there is a lot to steal. I list here the percent of all respondents whose dwelling was burglarized in the past year:

Tanzania 19.0
Uganda 11.7
Zimbabwe 10.7
Botswana 10.4
Paraguay 8.2
Costa Rica 7.3
Tunisia 7.2
Bolivia 6.7
South Africa 6.3
Columbia 6.0
Argentina 5.5
New Zealand 4.3
Indonesia 3.9
Australia 3.9
Denmark 3.1
England/Wales 2.8
Egypt 2.6
Italy 2.4
China 2.3
Philippines 2.0
Belgium 2.0
Poland 2.0
Netherlands 1.9
Brazil 1.9
USA 1.8
North Ireland 1.7
Sweden 1.7
India 1.4
Switzerland 1.1
Spain 1.6
Scotland 1.5
Portugal 1.4
Catalonia 1.3
West Germany 1.3
Japan 1.1
France 1.0
Austria 0.9
Norway 0.7
Finland 0.3

The evidence here supports the rational choice view: the worst 11 countries are all poor. (India is an exception, and the number for Brazil is lower than expected). Of course, I haven't mentioned all possible explanations. It might be that countries with lots of crime and poverty have many people with certain traits. An example would be a low average IQ. Sociopathy, impulsivity, present orientation, or laziness are among the other possibilities.

For those familiar with the criminological literature, one of the most interesting numbers is the United States. According to at least two popular theories--strain and institutional anomie--America should lead the world in property crime because it is unique in its worship of the market. Sorry guys--as much as you'd like to vilify the American system and conservatism, the U.S. is mediocre, even among wealthy countries.


  1. Anonymous6:28 PM

    India is an exception, and the number for Brazil is lower than expected.

    My family is from India. The thing is, Indians who have anything worth stealing have prison type iron bars on the doors and windows of their houses. So criminals seem to special in pick-pocketing (at which they are absolutely ingenious) and muggings. *Every* Indian I know seems to have been pick-pocketed and/or mugged at least once. One of the most unpleasant things about life in India is that you have to be on guard constantly against this sort of crime whenever you go out.

    This is a long-winded way of saying that India isn't an exception.

    I've heard muggings are very bad in Brazil also.

  2. Fred S.3:34 AM

    The United States is sui generis in crime statistics due to the astronomical incarceration rate. If America locked up its burglars with the reluctance of Canada (to take an example at random), I imagine the burglary rate would be much higher. Sorry, no particular American moral superiority.

  3. Anonymous10:19 AM

    Is it possible that the low rate of theft is due to high rates of gun ownership? Who wants to break into a house when there is a pretty good chance of being shot? But I think Fred is right too. The US really locks people up big time (no problem with that either as I hate property crime being a victim of it several times). No doubt that helps too. Can't steal when your doing 5 to 10.

  4. Anon: Looking at the ICVS, India also ranks low on robbery and bicycle theft among developing countries, but it is roughly in the middle of poor countries for other thefts, so this it least is somwhat consistent with what you are saying.

  5. Anon: Looking at the ICVS, India also ranks low on robbery and bicycle theft among developing countries, but it is roughly in the middle of poor countries for other thefts, so this it least is somwhat consistent with what you are saying.

  6. Fred S: Indeed, the property crime rate would be much higher if the U.S. didn't lock up so many criminals, and if Americans did not take all the precautions they do. But we would have a much higher violent crime rate as well, and even with our high level of incarceration, we exceed many countries in murder. The U.S. has the wrong crime profile to support the theory that America's materialistic culture is the cause of our crime problem. We are a violent country much more than a thieving one, but violence is rarely profitable.

  7. Anon again: Yes, you're right--Brazil has the highest rate of robbery among the developing countries sampled.

  8. Anonymous5:54 PM

    As a Brit Im slightly surprised to see England/Wales higher up the list than Scotland. Traditionally Scots tend a bit more to violence than English/Welsh. However England is host to many more members of vibrant minorities than Scotland. So I guess that explains it.

  9. Ron,

    You have to adjust for race if you want to compare America to other countries. Do America's whites commit as much crime as the average white country in Europe? Do America's whites get incarcerated more?

    You also have to consider regional variations. America still has genetic distributions of whites that are not perfectly blended. The Dakotas have more Scandinavians for example.

    The Finns and Japanese: Shy people commit less crime, bless their hearts.

  10. Ron, you surely havfe to bring the race/ethnicity into consideration.

    For example, Denmark has higer crime rate then Egypt (3.1 versur 2.6) DOes hat mean that Danes are mor eprone to property crime then Egyptians? Or maybe those who commit crime in Denmark are mostly Ababs from countries like the above-mentioned Egypt? The stats are not saying much in this regard.

    And why Denmark's rate is 10 times higher then Finland's? MAybe because Denmark has 10 times more immigrants (Arabs, blacks etc)?


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