Some neighbourhoods are breeding grounds of crime whereas in others the number of criminals can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Neighbourhood differences in crime cannot be completely explained by social and economic differences between neighbourhoods and residents. Social interactions may offer an additional explanation: people get more easily involved in criminal behaviour  if many of the other neighbourhood residents are engaged in crime.

The authors had access to individual data of more than 14 million Dutch citizens, including their age, gender, ethnic background and criminal involvement in the year 2006. They also accounted for differences between neighbourhoods, including average income and the percentage of single-parent families. Using advanced econometric techniques, they show that indeed social interactions can be identified, and that the threshold against perpetrating crime is lowered in neighbourhoods where many others are already involved in crime. This result applies predominantly to juveniles aged 12-17 years, and to property crime. However, they also find that the effect of social interaction is generally too low to cause a large majority of a neighbourhood population to be involved in crime.

Thomas de Graaff

This post is based on: Bernasco, W., de Graaff, Th., Rouwendal, J. & Steenbeek, W. (2017). Social Interactions and Crime Revisited: An Investigation Using Individual Offender Data in Dutch Neighborhoods. Review of Economics and Statistics 99 (4), 622–636.

November, 2017