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Spreading the Wealth: The Effect of the Distribution of Income and Race/Ethnicity Across Households and Neighborhoods on City Crime Trajectories

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2010
63 pages
This study examined the effect of the distribution of income and race/ethnicity across households and neighborhoods on the change in crime rates over a 30-year period in 352 cities that experienced a large growth in population after World War II.
The study found that whereas income inequality increases the amount of crime in cities, the distribution of this inequality across the census tracts of the city has significant interaction effects. In cities with high levels of income inequality, higher levels of economic segregation was linked to much higher levels of the types of crime studied (aggravated assaults, robberies, burglaries, and motor vehicle thefts). In contrast, for cities with low levels of income inequality, it is the mixing of households in neighborhoods with varying levels of income that leads to higher levels of crime. There was also an important interaction between the racial/ethnic composition of the city and how these groups were distributed across the city's neighborhoods. In cities with high levels of racial/ethnic heterogeneity, higher levels of segregation of these groups was linked to significantly high overall levels of crime. In cities with low levels of racial/ethnic heterogeneity, greater mixing of groups in neighborhoods increased the crime rate. These findings suggest the need for both a broader and narrower research lens in examining socioeconomic factors linked to crime rates. It is not sufficient for researchers to focus only on what explains the distribution of crime across the spatial landscape of a city. Although such studies are useful in determining why some neighborhoods have higher crime rates than others, it is also important to be able to distinguish between instances in which the spatial distribution of certain characteristics influences the distribution of crime and other instances in which they influence the overall amount of crime in the city. Apparently, the overall level of income inequality and overall level of racial/ethnic heterogeneity in cities turn these into salient dimensions for citizens. 2 tables, 14 figures, and 86 references

Date Published: October 1, 2010