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Social Change and Crime Rate Trends: A Routine Activity Approach

Lawrence E. Cohen and Marcus Felson
American Sociological Review
Vol. 44, No. 4 (Aug., 1979), pp. 588-608
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2094589
Page Count: 21
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Social Change and Crime Rate Trends: A Routine Activity Approach
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Abstract

In this paper we present a "routine activity approach" for analyzing crime rate trends and cycles. Rather than emphasizing the characteristics of offenders, with this approach we concentrate upon the circumstances in which they carry out predatory criminal acts. Most criminal acts require convergence in space and time of likely offenders, suitable targets and the absence of capable guardians against crime. Human ecological theory facilitates an investigation into the way in which social structure produces this convergence, hence allowing illegal activities to feed upon the legal activities of everyday life. In particular, we hypothesize that the dispersion of activities away from households and families increases the opportunity for crime and thus generates higher crime rates. A variety of data is presented in support of the hypothesis, which helps explain crime rate trends in the United States 1947-1974 as a byproduct of changes in such variables as labor force participation and single-adult households.

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