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Income Inequality, Race, and Place: Does the Distribution of Race and Class Within Neighborhoods Affect Crime Rates?

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 45 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2007 Pages: 665-698
John R. Hipp
Date Published
August 2007
34 pages
This study used crime data from census tracts in 19 cities in 2000 in order to examine whether crime rates were related to income inequality and racial/ethnic differences within neighborhoods.
The study found that income inequality within a neighborhood was positively related to various crime types. Income inequality within the same racial/ethnic groups was associated with higher rates of violent crime. This finding supports the relative deprivation theory of crime. This suggests that comparative income differences, more than poverty itself, is related to increased crime rates in a community. There was also support for the hypothesis that the social distance between different racial/ethnic groups within a neighborhood leads to higher crime levels. Ethnic heterogeneity in a neighborhood consistently showed a positive relationship with crime committed by strangers. This supports the social distance model as an explanation of crime rates. There was no evidence that higher residential stability leads to lower crime rates, which is a key prediction of social disorganization theory. Rather, it is the presence of homeowners and their greater investment in the neighborhood that leads to more involvement in crime-prevention behaviors. There was no support for the hypothesis that increasing income inequality across racial/ethnic groups will increase crime rates. There was support for the routine activities theory, which posits that general inequality increases crime by bringing into close proximity both motivated offenders (those with less) and suitable targets (those with more). The 19 cities used in this study constituted a convenience sample of cities with available crime data. Dependent variables were based on crime reports from the police departments, with separate analyses for five crime types. Data on the socioeconomic characteristics for census tracts were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau. 6 tables, 1 figure, and 78 references


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