Stricter laws lower the crime rate

Do Contraceptives Lower the Crime Rate?

In 2018 crime was back to the level of 1981. Figures from the police crime statistics of the Federal Criminal Police Office, which the Federal Ministry of the Interior publishes every year, suggest. 6,710 criminal offenses per 100,000 inhabitants were reported to the police in 2018. That is 20 percent less than in 1993, when Germany's crime rate of 8,337 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants reached its highest level since the unified police crime statistics were published in 1953.

Falling crime until the middle of the 20th century - and then an increase again

The amazing thing about it: Similar developments can be observed in many Western countries - an increase in the number of cases in the post-war period until the late 1980s or mid-1990s, then a decrease. According to scientists, the increase in the post-war period represents an anomaly: The US criminologist Michael Tonry of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis mentions several studies in a specialist article that show declining case numbers for many crimes since the early 19th century. In the case of murder and manslaughter, evidence of falling numbers of cases is said to be possible even since the Middle Ages.

An explanation for this is provided by the civilization theory of the sociologist Norbert Elias (1897 - 1990), according to which technical progress and increasingly specialized division of labor bring the individual members of a society into ever greater mutual dependency. They would control their behavior more and more from generation to generation.

But that doesn't explain the rise in crime from the middle of the 20th century. On the one hand, a more refined methodology for compiling the crime statistics could have played a role here. The Federal Criminal Police Office points out, for example, that Germany-wide crime statistics did not exist in the Weimar Republic and that where they existed only serious crimes were recorded. Furthermore, there was previously no opportunity for many types of crime: as long as there were hardly any cars, for example, there was hardly any car theft. And as long as most people were still shopping in the grocery store with a service counter, shoplifters had less opportunity to stick around than after the spread of self-service supermarkets.

Less crime thanks to stricter laws?

But why have crime rates been falling in many countries for some time now? Some scientists, such as the US economist Steven Levitt, suspect that it could be at least partly due to stricter laws and longer prison terms. Criminologist Michael Tonry contradicts this. He points out that crime rates in the United States and Canada have developed similarly over the years, although the United States has kept increasing proportions of the population jailed while the proportion of Canadians behind bars has remained relatively constant.

How the birth rate and crime might be related

For economist Levitt, there are other factors that are said to have resulted in less crime in the United States: The hiring of more police officers is said to have caused a decrease of about ten percent. The drop in the price of the drug crack is said to have caused a further 15 percent less crime, because it meant that the murder of competitors was no longer financially worthwhile for rival drug gangs.

The factor that Steven Levitt considers to be the most important was particularly sensational: the liberalization of abortion through a ruling by the US Supreme Court in 1973. As a result, many criminals were never born, and this effect emerged with a delay of about a decade and a half . Levitt argues that unwanted children are exposed to several risk factors in order to become criminals in later life.

These included poverty, growing up in a single parent household, low education of the mother and her young age at birth. According to his research, the effect he claimed shows up earlier in US states that had already liberalized their abortion law before 1973. This thesis caused controversy in the USA at the time. They might not have been quite as violent if Levitt had used another ruling by the US Supreme Court for his argument. It happened the year before the abortion decision. In 1972, the US federal judges ruled that unmarried people should also have access to contraceptives.