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Violent-Crime Rates and Racial Composition: Convergence Over Time

NCJ Number
American Journal of Sociology Volume: 101 Issue: 3 Dated: November 1995 Pages: 578-610
A E Liska; P E Bellair
Date Published
33 pages
Building on existing research, this study examined the reciprocal effects of racial composition and violent crime rates over the last 40 years.
This study disaggregated general crime rates into nonviolent crime rates and violent crime rates. Relying on fear research, the researchers assumed that violent crime, especially violent crime by strangers (epitomized in robbery), has the most impact on where people live. The study also disaggregated change in racial composition into change in the white and nonwhite populations. The study assumed that violent crime rates affect the migration of whites, who have the resources to act on their fears and intentions more than do nonwhites, who are more constrained by housing discrimination. These reciprocal effects were examined for the period from 1950 to 1990. Again relying on fear research, the study assumed that the fear associated with violent crime changes over time and thus that the effects of violent crime rates may change over time. Researchers analyzed time lag structures, expecting that the time lag of the crime rate's effect on racial composition may be relatively long, operating through slow-moving processes. The researchers reasoned that if violent crime rates and racial composition affect each other over each decade from 1950 to 1990, these effects, however modest, would yield a pattern of escalating cross-sectional correlations over these decades. The study found that although racial composition strongly affected the change in violent crime rates from 1980 to 1990, it only minimally affected changes in rates for the previous three decades; however, violent crime rates (especially robbery) substantially affected the change in racial composition for all four decades. Indeed, robbery rates apparently played a significant role in the "white flight" from central cities. 6 tables, 1 figure, and 49 references


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