Crime and Human Nature
by James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein

The definitive study of the causes of crime. This book is to criminology what Mises Human Action is to economics.
Certain acts are regarded as wrong by every society, preliterate as well as literate; that among these "universal crimes" are murder, theft, robbery, and incest. p. 22
Libertarianism agrees that all these are crimes except incest.

Economic conditions may affect crime, but since crime rates were lower in the Great Depression than during the prosperous years of the 1960s, the effect is, at best, not obvious or simple. p. 25

Racism and capitalism may contribute to crime, but the connection must be rather complicated since crime has risen in the United States (and other nations) most rapidly during recent times, when we have surely become less racist and (given the growth of government controls on business) less capitalist. p. 25

Crime is an activity disproportionately carried out by young men living in large cities. (26)

crime rate = prevalence x incidence
crimes/population = criminals/population x crimes/criminal
The homicide rate doubled between 1961 and 1975. Males are twice as likely to be murdered as females. Males aged 25 to 34 are more likely to be murdered than any other age group. Nonwhites are 8 to 15 times as likely as whites to be murdered. (34)

The great majority of deaths recognized as homicides are solved. (35)

Police solve no more than about 1 in 10 robberies. The racial composition of all arrested persons is quite similar to the racial makeup of all persons who were seen by their victims. (36)

If the bite of conscience is not sufficient by itself to prevent the offence, the would-be offender will calculate, however roughly or inarticulately, the chances of being caught. (48)

Persons deficient in conscience may turn out to be persons who for various reasons resist classical conditioning—they do not internalize rules as easily as do others. Persons who, even with a strong conscience, commit crimes anyway may be persons who have difficulty imagining the future consequences of present action or who are so impulsive as to discount very heavily even those consequences they can foresee ... (49)

Cesare Lombroso became famous for his biological theories of criminal behavior.

Although interdisciplinary by its very nature, criminology became a sociological specialty by the 1940s, and this created a barrier to the flow of knowledge from physical anthropology, not to mention biology and psychology. (80)

A person's "somatotype" is a characterization of his or her physique in terms of three components, called endomorphy (muffin), mesomorphy (horse), and ectomorphy (bird). (81) Criminals tend to be more mesomorphic (muscular) and less ectomorphic (linear) and not clearly unusual with regard endomorphy. The masculine configuration called andromorphy also characterizes the average criminal. The horse, non-bird physique predominates not just among criminals, but among salesmen and politicians. (89)

The criminality of the biological parents is more important than that of the adoptive parents (96) Chronically criminal biological parents (three or more convictions) are three times more likely to produce a chronically criminal son than are biological parents with no convictions. (97) The age of placement exerted no effect on the relationship between biological-parent—male-adoptee criminality. Finally, the transmission of criminality from biological parents to their sons was unaffected by whether the biological parents committed their crimes before or after the children were placed in adoptive homes, or by whether the adoptive parents knew the biological parents' criminal records. (99)

There is a disproportionately high percentage of men with an extra Y chromosome among inmates of a maximum-security hospital in Scotland. ... In penal institutions of various types, the frequency of XYY is 10 to 20 times higher than in the general population, about 1 to 2 percent of the institutionalized male population. ... XYY males are a good deal taller than average (101) XYY men do not appear to be more violent or aggressive than XY men with criminal records ... XYY men, though not differing in parental SES, have, on average, lower tested intelligence and educational achievement (102)

Crime cannot be understood without taking into account individual predispositions and their biological roots. (103)

Around the world, males are 5 to 50 times as likely to be arrested as are females. (104) The sex difference is smaller for blacks. (109) Delinquent girls and adult female offenders have the elevated Psychopathic deviate score also typical of male offenders. Such people usually show deficiencies in, and perhaps also hostility toward, internalized social standards of conduct. (116) Males are more aggressive than females in all human societies for which evidence is available. The sex differences are found too early in life, at a time when there is no evidence that differential socialization pressures have been brought to bear by adults to "shape" aggression differentially in the two sexes ... Similar sex differences are found in man and subhuman primates. Aggression is related to levels of sex hormones and can be changed by experimental administration of these hormones. (117—118)

Aggressive behavior increased just before and during early portions of menstruation. Girls at an English boarding school committed more offences at about the same point in their cycles. (121)

The typical female offended is poor, under-educated, disproportionately a member of a minority group, and dependent on her limited resources for her own support and often the support of her children. Rather than a modern woman rising in a previously male-dominated economy, the typical female offender has little sympathy for the women's movement, and her social and economic situation is not getting better. (124)

From the victim's standpoint and from the arresting agency's, crime rates peak in the teens. (133) Crime rates have risen more than the age distribution would have implied, and they have risen most for juvenile violent crimes. (141) An older person is less likely to commit a crime than a younger person, even after they have been matched for demographic variables such as education, occupation, need, moral commitments, fear of sanctions, and social integration as measured by survey methods. ... economic circumstances predict crime less well than age does (145)

The typical person passing into adulthood shifts from the egocentric and hedonistic focus of childhood to more abstract and principled guidelines to action. (147)

The IQ of the average offender is 91—93. There is about a 10-point gap in IQ between offenders and non-offenders. (154) IQ is generally more predictive of offending than social class or cultural backgrounds (157) Whether for school grades or job success, test scores appear to have approximately the same predictive power for members of varying ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups. (157) Delinquents have a relative deficiency in verbal skills (160) The general IQ deficiency usually comprises a small, perhaps negligible, performance deficit and a large verbal deficit. (161)

Sheer youth, low verbal IQ, and a substantial gap between performance and verbal scores all converge more or less together on a low level of moral development or interpersonal maturity and a tendency to break the law. (162)

Recidivists have lower IQs than non-repeating offenders (165) Those who commit forgery, bribery, securities violations, and embezzlement have higher IQs than the average criminal population. Those who commit assaults, homicide, rape, and sex offenses have lower IQs than the average criminal. Those who commit the high-frequency crimes such as burglary, car theft, and drug and alcohol offences have average IQs for criminals. (165)

For someone who stands little to gain from legitimate work, the rewards of non-crime are relatively weak. Failure in school therefore not only enhances the rewards for crime, but it predicts weak rewards for non-crime. (171)

Psychological tests show that delinquents are generally assertive, unafraid, aggressive, unconventional, extroverted, and poorly socialized. Non-delinquents are generally self-controlled, concerned about relations with others, willing to be guided by social standards, and rich in internal feelings such as insecurity, helplessness, love (or its lack), and anxiety. Psychiatric interviews conducted independently confirmed the major distinctions between the two groups. (177) The adult psychopath is invariably an antisocial child grown up. (183) About a third of the adult psychopaths had been described in childhood as reckless, slovenly, impulsive, and lacking guilt. The more of these symptoms a child had, the greater was the risk later on. (183) The psychopath has difficulty seeing himself as others do. He tends to be impulsive and to overvalue immediate goals, is unconcerned with the rights of others when recognizing them would interfere with his personal satisfaction in any way, is unable to form deep or persistent attachments to others, has a tendency to blame others rather than to take responsibility for his own failures, often lies even about trivial things in situations where detection is inevitable, is undependable, and is emotionally impoverished. (191) The psychopath might be engaged in a restless search for external stimulation to compensate for the lack of stimulation inside. (199) In some studies, psychopaths have shown diminished levels of skin conductance. Lie-detection tests are, it seems, least effective with the very people we may most want to catch lying. (200) Brain-wave abnormalities are observed in about half the psychopaths, as compared to about 15% of the general population. The specific abnormalities of psychopaths vary, but they include EED patterns associated with drowsiness or unalertness, or patterns normally seen only during sleep that are present in psychopaths when awake. (200) Psychopaths discount future events more steeply than non-psychopaths. (204) Without the internal monologue, time horizons shrink: behavior becomes more tied to its immediate consequences. (205) Impulsive, violent behavior has been shown to be associated with subtle brain disturbances, as well as the more dramatic ravages of drunkenness, brain tumors, rabies, and blows to the head. (205)

On socialization tests, high school kids rated as "good citizens" come out at the top, prisoners and inmates of correctional institutions at the bottom, and psychology graduate students toward the bottom. (193)

The sex perverts have high masculinity-femininity scores, indicating unusually feminine attitudes (194)

Conscience differs from calculation and is a powerful force in its own right. (217) The working of a polygraph lie-detector does not depend on our becoming anxious about being caught in a lie (there is no way for the machine to know what is true or false in our statements) but on the anxiety most of us spontaneously feel about merely uttering a lie. It is this automatic change in pulse rate, breathing, and skin conductance that the machine detects. If we were calculators pure and simple, we would realize that we can say with impunity anything we wanted while hooked up to the polygraph. A few people are capable of acting this way, but we think of them as rather odd, as indeed they are: The ability to lie without emotion is a mark of the psychopath. (218)

Identical twins are more similar in behavior than fraternal twins. (220) Chinese-American babies within 33 hours of being born were less perturbable, more placid, and more easily consoled than Caucasian ones. (220) Newborn female infants compared to newborn males are more receptive to touching and talking, more likely to smile, more likely to cling to their mothers, more sensitive to contact with a piece of cloth or a jet of air, and equipped with less upper-body strength. (221)

Children placed with foster parents for less than the first 3 years of life are much more likely to form a bond with their new parents than those institutionalized for a longer time. The latter tend to lack a sense of guilt, to crave affection, and to be unable to observe rules or form lasting relationships. (223)

Warmth and consistent discipline are the mothers' behavior that make the greatest difference in their sons' criminality. (232) If rules are consistently enforced by parents whose approval the child values, then the experience of conforming to the rules will itself become pleasurable and the prospect of breaking them will be a source of anxiety. In this way, the impact of conscience is enhanced. (239) Cold and permissive parents will not encourage the bonds of attachment, will leave the child a foreshortened time horizon that makes him intensely present oriented, and will generate little or no capacity for feeling guilt. (239) Children are more likely to obey rules that have been clearly explained to them than rules that are little more than abrupt commands. Parents deficient in verbal skills may have more difficulty in communicating rules just as children of low intelligence may have difficulty in comprehending them. (240) Being impulsive is to some extent a characteristic of all young children, but especially of the less bright ones; in a sense, the child who remains impulsive as he grows older suffers from a kind of arrested development, such that he approaches the larger world with a temperament more appropriate to the nursery school. (243)

For decades, well-meaning reformers have tried to devise ways of keeping youth in school as long as possible, at a minimum through high school, partly in hopes that the more schooling a boy has the better citizen he will be. If Hirschi and others are correct, the opposite is more likely to be the case, at least for boys with little verbal aptitude and a dislike of school. (278)

The more delinquent the boy, the less value he attached to the opinions of his friends. ... the greater the cohesion among the members of Chicago youth gangs, the less the rate of property crime committed by their members (294) offences most often committed in a group setting were drinking, using drugs, breaking and entering, and damaging property (296) Persons with low incomes, little schooling (and perhaps little aptitude for schooling), and not much mobility are sharply constrained by neighborhood boundaries. (302)

A well-kept image deters the marginal offender by making a neighborhood appear to be the province of people who care and thus who are likely to respond to vandalism by imposing sanctions, while a run-down area suggests to the offender that no one cares and thus sanctions will be less likely or less severs or both. (307—308)

Income inequality is associated with violence but not theft ... inequalities are related to homicide and assault but not to robbery. (331)

The number of suicides in Britain and the Unites States goes up significantly after a well-publicized suicide. (342)

There is no evidence that opiates, such as heroine, have any direct effect on criminality or aggression; on the contrary, heroine, being a narcotic, tends to produce among its users drowsiness, a reduction in tension, and lessened sexual activity. (356) The statistical association between alcohol use and crime is overwhelming. (356) Addicts in need of money have strong incentive to commit the easiest crimes—they need money quickly and frequently, and this leaves little time or energy for extensive planning. Studies of junkies on the street confirm that most of their crimes are highly opportunistic—snatching purses, taking things from unlocked cars or trucks, shoplifting, or stealing from a sleeping drunk. While most junkies in the study, very few were skilled career criminals. Being opportunistic means taking the easy and unplanned chances, and this in turn means avoiding, where possible, the need to confront a victim who is prepared to resist. Because of this, junkies tend to prefer nonviolent to violent crimes. (368) the typical heroine addict is disproportionately a young male, black or Hispanic, living in a big city (369)

Group therapies in particular seem to be of small value. (378) There is little evidence that psychotherapy has any value. Many people got better after a period of therapy, but they were about equal in proportion to those who got better simply as a result of the passage of time. (379) However one measures crime, it is less common in places where sanctions are more likely. (391)

In 1890, 1900, and 1910. one-third of the child-rearing topics discussed in a sample of articles from Ladies' Home Journal, Woman's Home Companion, and Good Housekeeping were about character development; in 1920, only 3 percent were. By 1930, articles on character development had by and large been replaced with ones on personality development. And whereas the magazines in 1890 had said that character was best developed by providing a good home influence, by 1920 the route to a well-adjusted personality was thought chiefly to involve proper feeding. (420—421)

Crime rates drifted downward between 1933 and the 1950s, despite the fact that from 1933—1941 the economy was in a severe depression and 1941—1960 the economy was prosperous. Crime rates then rose in the 1960s, a period of unparalleled prosperity, and continued high during the 1970s, a period of alternating booms and modest recessions. (423)

They show that crime rates don't correspond with economic trends. They don't mention it, but it is obvious that these trends coincide with prohibition. Although there is not much evidence that crime went up to any large extend during Prohibition in the 1920s, the rates began to go down from 1933-1960 after prohibition was repealed. Crime rates have increased since the 1960s when prohibition of drugs began in earnest.

An increased proportion of the at-risk youth have been induced to spend time doing things (sitting still in classrooms) that they find less rewarding than things they once did (earning money at a job). And to the extent that being out of work is no longer as costly as it once was (owing to the growth in the coverage and value of unemployment benefits, welfare payments, and food stamps), leisure—occasionally interrupted by opportunistic criminality—may have become a feasible alternative to both school and work. (424)

At the turn of the century our cities (whose population densities were much greater than they are today) were very lightly policed compared to modern practice. (429)

New distillation methods and abundant grain harvests increased the supply and lowered the cost of alcohol. The result was a dramatic increase in consumption from an estimated 2.5 gallons per capita in 1790 to 7 gallons per capita in 1810 and then 10 gallons per capita by 1829. The first few decades of the nineteenth century witnessed a series of religious revivals that have since become known as the Second Great Awakening. Most of the converts were young people. Many employers insisted on evidence of church membership as prerequisite for employment and advancement. (431) One of the most significant reform movements that grew in the 1830s was the temperance movement.

Beginning around 1830 per capita alcohol consumption began to decline. It fell from 10 to 2.1 gallons from 1829 to 1850 (433)

The purpose of public schools was character formation more than intellectual development. Public schools were originally privately managed, nondenominational, Protestant schools that received government funds. Special efforts were made to recruit the children of poor families. By 1847, one fourth of the families of New York City received some form of charity. School teachers pressed for compulsory attendance laws. (433)

The very idea of "Victorian morality" itself fell into disrepute; the phrase now stands for narrow priggishness and arrant hypocrisy. The importance of teaching self-control has been to some extent supplanted by the value of stimulating self-expression. (435) In the nineteenth century scarcely anyone dissented from the view that character formation required teaching people to restrain self-indulgent impulses. By the 1920s, popular versions of the theories of Sigmund Freud had led many persons to believe that adult problems arose because children and adolescents had been taught to repress their instincts.

The Depression tightened, rather than loosened, social controls on crime by accelerating the movement of young males into adult responsibilities. Poverty drove children quickly into the labor market in order to help families survive. World War II not only continued to tighten social bonds, it exported millions of men during their crime-prone years to foreign lands and provided a military outlet for such aggressive impulses as they had. (436)

Property and personal crimes are about equally divided in undeveloped nations, but in developed nations property crime exceeds personal crime by 8 to 1. (441) Increased per capita productivity in a country is usually accompanied by more property offences, fewer murders, and a net increase in crime overall. (442)

A modern society has greater internal mobility and greater dissemination of culture. In a developed nation, there is less of a rural-urban difference in life-style than in an undeveloped one, where people in the countryside and the small towns live, in some sense, in a different epoch from those in the cities. (444)

A migrant from the countryside with any preexisting tendency to commit crime will find the tendency strengthened when the risk of recognition is slight, and where he finds property owned by people he does not know. (445)

Blacks tend to be over-represented by a factor of 4 to 1 among those arrested for violent crimes and by a factor of 3 to 1 among those arrested for property crimes. (461) In 1974, 62% of the persons arrested for robbery were black, and 62% of the robbers who could be described by their victims were black. (463) youthfulness is more characteristic if blacks (466) Among whites, being a mesomorph is an indicator of a predisposition to crime. Young black males are more mesomorphic (5.14 on Sheldon'd scale) than are young white males (4.29) (469)

During the 1960s, one neighborhood in San Francisco had the lowest income, the highest unemployment rate, the highest proportion of families with incomes under $4,000 per year, the least educational attainment, the highest tuberculosis rate, the highest proportion of substandard housing of any area of the city. That neighborhood was called Chinatown. Yet in 1965, there were only five persons of Chinese ancestry committed to prison in the entire state of California. (473) The Chinese were for many years denied access to public schools of California, not allowed to testify against whites in trials, and made the object of discriminatory taxation. (473) The experience of the Chinese and Japanese suggests that social isolation, substandard living conditions, and general poverty are not invariably associated with high crime rates among racially distinct groups. (474)

Black families were not disproportionately headed by women in the South after slavery. (480)

Conscience and justice (or equity) are not philosophical abstractions that clutter up the straightforward business of finding a scientific explanation of criminality; they are a necessary part of the explanation itself (491)

The correlation between early age of onset and a high crime rate of offending is one of the best-established generalizations in all of criminology. As the twig is bent ... (509)

Year Read: 1997


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