Do teen births keep American crime high?

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11 Scopus citations


The United States has a high teenage birth rate relative to other developed countries. Children of teenagers experience more difficult childhoods than other children and hence may be more likely subsequently to be victims or perpetrators of crimes. I assess to what extent international patterns in teenage birth rates can explain why the United States had the highest crime rates of developed countries in the 1980s and why U.S. relative crime rates subsequently fell. Using internationally comparable crime rates spanning 1989-2000, I find that assault rates are increased by an increase in the proportion of young adults who were born to a teenage mother. Intimate-partner assault, a crime most commonly occurring among young adults, is most affected. Variation in teenage birth rates fully explain the initially high U.S. assault level and prevented the subsequent fall in assault rate from being 20 percent greater. I also present evidence on larceny and burglary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)533-566
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Law and Economics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Law


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