Crime, Broken Families, and Punishment
- American Economic Journal: Microeconomics (Forthcoming)
We develop a two-period overlapping generations model in which both the structure of the
family and the decision to commit crime are endogenous and the dynamics of moral norms of
good conduct (honesty trait) is transmitted intergenerationally by families and peers. Having
a father at home might be crucial to prevent susceptible boys from becoming criminals, as this
facilitates the transmission of the honesty trait against criminal behavior. By "destroying"
biparental families and putting fathers in prison, we show that more intense crime repression
can backfire at the local level because it increases the possibility that criminals' sons become
criminals themselves. Consistent with sociological disorganization theories of crime, the
model also explains the emergence and persistence of urban ghettos characterized by a large
proportion of broken families, high crime rates, and high levels of peer socialization, which
reinforce criminal activities. Finally, we discuss the efficiency of segregation, family and
education policies in terms of long-term crime rates.
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