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Social Change and Crime Rates: An Evaluation of Alternative Theoretical Approaches

Terance D. Miethe, Michael Hughes and David McDowall
Social Forces
Vol. 70, No. 1 (Sep., 1991), pp. 165-185
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.2307/2580067
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2580067
Page Count: 21
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Social Change and Crime Rates: An Evaluation of Alternative Theoretical Approaches
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Abstract

Two general theoretical perspectives, criminal opportunity and social disorganization, have been widely used to explain the level of crime in cities and temporal changes in their crime rates. Using a pooled cross-sectional and time-series design of 584 U.S. cities for the years 1960, 1970, and 1980, the present study evaluates the empirical adequacy of these theories. The cross-sectional findings were far more supportive of social disorganization theories than criminal opportunity theories. However, neither perspective was able to consistently explain changes in crime rates over time. Ethnic heterogeneity, household size, and the rate of crowding in households were the strongest predictors of the level and changes in official rates of homicide, robbery, and burglary. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for future research.

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