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(1999) Crime, Urban Flight, And the Consequences for Cities

(1999) Crime, Urban Flight, And the Consequences for Cities

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The Review
Julie Berry Cullen and Steven D. Levitt*
—This paper analyzes the link between rising city crime rates andurban ight. Each additional reported crime is associated with a roughlyone-person decline in city population. Almost all of the crime-relatedpopulation decline is attributable to increased out-migration rather than adecrease in new arrivals. Households that leave the city because of crimeare much more likely to remain within the Standard MetropolitanStatistical Area (SMSA) than those that leave the city for other reasons.Migration decisions of highly educated households and those with childrenare particularly responsive to changes in crime. Causality appears to runfrom rising crime rates to city depopulation.
I. Introduction
HE DIFFICULTIES confronting large American citiesinrecent decades arewell documented (e.g., Bradbury etal., 1982; Gottdeiner, 1986, Wilson, 1987; Inman et al.,1994). Crime is one of the greatest challenges facing largeAmerican cities. Violent crime rates in U.S. cities withpopulations over 500,000 in 1993, were four times higherthan in cities with populations below 50,000, and seventimes greater than in rural areas.
The level of crime in largecities is even more remarkable when one considers that bothper capita expenditures on police and the level of victimprecaution (e.g., locked doors, private security guards, alarmsystems) are much greater in large cities.
Recent estimatessuggest that the average crime victimization cost per resi-dent in large cities is over $1,000 annually (Miller et al.,1993).This paper examines the link between crime and urbanight. Anecdotal evidence suggests that rising crime rates incities like Detroit drove residents to the suburbs, but therehas been little formal analysis of the issue. A number of studies have included the crime level as an explanatoryvariable in determining city population (e.g., Frey, 1979;Grubb, 1982; Katzman, 1980; Sampson & Wooldredge,1986), but the role of crime has generally not been theprimary focus.
It is important to note that economic theory does notnecessarily predict a strong link between rising crime andurban ight. If the costs of crime are fully capitalized intoproperty values, then unexpected rises in crime impose costson property holders, but need not lead to depopulation. Evenwith full capitalization, however, some population declinemight be expected, since lower housing costs may leadresidents to demand more housing per person (leading to asmaller equilibrium population level). Rises in crime couldalso lead to urban ight if there are xed costs of upkeep onhousing. Then, crime-related declines in values may leadsome housing units to fall below a critical level, leading toabandonment. Rising crime will also lead to city depopula-tion if disamenities are not fully capitalized.The results we obtain are consistent with a strongrelationship between changes in crime rates and urban ight.Regardless of the time-scale of the observations (i.e., annualdata, 5 yr. differences, or 10 yr. differences), the level of aggregation (city-level versus household-level data), or thecontrol variables included in the analysis, our basic ndingis remarkably robust. Each additional reported index crimein a central city is associated with a net decline of approximately one resident. A 10% increase in crimecorresponds to a 1% decline in city population. Usinghousehold-level data, we are able to determine the relativeresponsiveness of different population subgroups. Our re-sults suggest that almost all of the impact of crime on citypopulation results from increased out-migration; the link between changes in crime and in-migration appears weak.
Received for publication April 29, 1997. Revision accepted for publica-tion August 11, 1998.* University of Michigan, and University of Chicago and American BarFoundation, respectively.We would like to acknowledge the helpful comments of Daron Acemo-glu, Philip Cook, David Cutler, William Fischel, Edward Glaeser, JonathonGruber, Jerry Hausman, Lawrence Katz, John Lott, David Mustard, JamesPoterba, Richard Voith, William Wheaton, anonymous referees, and theeditor James Stock, as well as seminar participants at Harvard, MIT, thePhiladelphia Federal Reserve Bank, the University of Michigan, and theUniversity of Pennsylvania. We are grateful to Rich Robinson of CIESINfor providing the census data extracts. Comments can be addressed eitherto Julie Berry Cullen (jbcullen@umich.edu), Department of Economics,314 Lorch Hall, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, or toSteven Levitt (slevitt@midway.uchicago.edu.), Department of Economics,University of Chicago, 1126 East 59
Street, Chicago, IL 60637. Thenancial support of the National Science Foundation and the NBERInstitute on Aging is also gratefully acknowledged. All remaining errorsare the sole responsibility of the authors.
Uniform Crime Reports,
which reect only those crimes reportedto the police, are likely to understate the actual difference in crime ratesacross city types because of the greater likelihood a crime will be reportedto the police in smaller cities (Levitt, 1998).
In 1990 to 1991, cities with populations over 1,000,000 spent anaverage of $210 per capita on police protection, whereas cities withpopulations below 75,000 expended an average of $97 per capita (U.S.Bureau of the Census, 1993).
There is an extensive literature analyzing urban ight more generally(e.g., Taeuber & Taeuber, 1964; Bradford & Kelejian, 1973; Frey, 1979;Marshall, 1979; Marshall & O’Flaherty, 1987). This literature has consid-ered both the role of the increasing attractiveness of suburbs due todeclining transportation costs and higher incomes (e.g., Mieszkowski &Mills, 1993) and city disamenities.
The Review ofEconomics and Statistics,
May 1999, 81(2):159–169
1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Highly educated households and households with childrenare most responsive to crime.The results described in the preceding paragraph arebased on correlational analysis. We attempt to distinguishbetween correlation and causality using lagged changes inthe punitiveness of the
criminal justice system asinstrumental variables for changes in a city’s crime rate.These state criminal justice variables are demonstrated toaffect city-level crime in the predicted manner and areplausibly excluded from the city population equation. Usingeither 2SLS or LIML, the instrumental variables estimatesare at least as large as the OLS coefficients, suggesting thatthe correlational results may understate the true causalimpact of crime rates on city population.The remainder of the paper is structured as follows.Section II describes the methodology and data used in theanalysis. Section III demonstrates the strong empiricalrelationship between changes in crime rates and changes incity population, as well as exploring the sensitivity of theresults tochanges inspecication. Section IVuses household-level data from the 1980 census to isolate the responsivenessof different population subgroups to crime. Section Vconcludes.
II. Methodology and Data
Our empirical strategy involves regressing various mea-sures of urban ight on changes in crime rates and anextensive collection of covariates and indicator variables(e.g., year dummies and city-xed effects). We focusprimarily on the link between changes in population andchanges in crime rates. There are both theoretical andmethodological justications for examining changes incrime rates. From a theoretical perspective, it seems morelogical to look at changes. If a city has a historically highcrime rate, then that information will already have beenincorporated into the past location decisions of residents.Only as crime rises (or as expectations of future crime rise)will there be an increased incentive for residents to ee thecity. On a practical level, focusing on changes mitigates theproblems associated with noncomparabilities in crime-reporting rates, crime denitions, and police departmentpractices across cities (O’Brien, 1985).The analysis is based on three different data sets. Table 1presents the summary statistics for the variables used in eachof the data sets. The appendix describes in detail the sourcesand construction of the variables.The rst data set consists of city-level data covering thelast three decennial census years for 127 U.S. cities withpopulations greater than 100,000 in 1970. The benet of limiting the sample to census years is the wealth of city-levelvariables that are available only in census years: medianfamily income, racialbreakdowns, education levels, employ-ment by sector, percentage in owner-occupied housing, etc.These data allow us to examine the long run (10 yr.)relationship between city population and crime rates. Theavailability of such an extensive list of covariates lessens the
VariableCensus Year Data:1970, 1980, 1990(127 cities;10 yr. changes)Annual Data:1976–1993(127 cities;1 yr. changes)PUMSData: 1980(81 cities;5 yr. changes)City population 405,937(745,899)[39,506]414,809(742,274)[44,014]483,231(924,740)
ln(city population) 0.035(0.154)[0.063]0.0035(0.0315)[0.0283]
(0.091)Per capita city crime 0.097(0.026)[0.009]0.091(0.026)[0.013]0.086(0.021)
(Per capita citycrime)0.018(0.021)[0.017]0.0007(0.0084)[0.0083]0.012(0.014)Unemployment rate 0.054(0.021)[0.015]0.066(0.024)[0.018]0.086(0.021)Median familyincome33,668(4,592)[1,827]33,375(5,378)[1,923]35,083(3,729)% black 0.204(0.151)[0.029]0.232(0.168)[0.020]0.200(0.143)% aged 017 0.314(0.036)[0.031]0.276(0.026)[0.017]0.310(0.017)% aged 1824 0.126(0.011)[0.007]0.123(0.012)[0.011]0.129(0.008)% aged 2544 0.257(0.024)[0.021]0.295(0.030)[0.024]0.252(0.012)% aged 4564 0.199(0.014)[0.005]0.191(0.014)[0.006]0.204(0.014)Per capita suburbancrime0.047(0.016)[0.006]
(Per capita sub-urban crime)
0.0001(0.0048)[0.0048]% manufacturing 0.216(0.091)[0.021]0.232(0.101)% home owner 0.538(0.110)[0.018]0.522(0.125)% high-schoolgraduate0.593(0.114)[0.066]0.526(0.097)Average July tem-perature (°F)76.8(5.1)[0.0]75.5(5.2)Average January tem-perature (°F)37.9(11.7)[0.0]37.8(12.9)Average yearly pre-cipitation (inches)35.5(13.0)[0.0]35.5(14.1)
This entry corresponds to net migration, rather than overall population changes, which alsoincludes births and deaths.Column 1 presents city-level data from the 1970, 1980, and 1990 censuses for 127 U.S. central citieswith populations greater than 100,000 in 1970. Column 2 presents annual observations from 1976 to 1993for the same set of cities. Column 3 presents city-level data for the 81 cities in the preceding sample forwhich 1980 PUMS data are available. See the appendix for more-detailed variable denitions. For thevariables in levels that are used as controls in the regressions, the reported values are for the base year (i.e.,1980 if we are considering changes between 1980 and 1990 in the decadal data). Standard deviations arein parentheses. Within-city standard deviations are in square brackets. Since the 1980 PUMS data are asingle cross section, there is no within-city variation.
concerns about the importance of omitted variables. Themean population for cities in the sample is roughly 400,000.These cities are growing slowly (approximately 3.5% perdecade). Roughly nine index crimes are reported annuallyper 100 city residents, a number which increases slightlyover time.The second data set is a yearly city-level panel for thesame set of cities described above, covering the years 1976to 1993. Using this annual frequency data, it is possible toestimate the short-run (within a year) relationship betweencity population and crime rates. These yearly data will alsoprove useful in testing the sensitivity of our results toalternative specications and instrumental variables ap-proaches. The primary shortcoming of the data is the limitedcollection of city-level variables that is available on anannual basis. Both city population data and crimes reportedto the police are available yearly. It should be noted,however, that in noncensus years the population data are notexhaustive counts, but rather estimates that are derived fromCurrent Population Reports and birth and death records. Theother variables that we use are either for more-aggregatedgeographic areas or interpolated between census years.Lacking other covariates, we utilize year and region dum-mies—and, in some cases, city-xed effects and/or region-year interactions—in an attempt to control for omittedfactors.The nal data set is drawn from household-level data inthe Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) 5% sample of the1980 census. Half of those households included in thePUMS data were asked the place of residence of thehousehold head in 1975 and 1980, which allows us toconstruct measures of net migration. Due to census data-collection methods, we are able to identify the city of residence for only 81 of 127 cities included in the city-leveldata sets described above. In the other cities, census areas donot correspond to city boundaries. These 81 cities are onaverage larger than the overall sample, but appear otherwiserepresentative.
We divide households within these citiesinto three migration categories: stayers, comers, and goers.Households that do not move, or move but remain withincity limits, are categorized as
Those who arrive in acity or leave the city are classied as
respectively.Despite the drawback that these data represent only asingle cross section, they allow us to conduct an expandedanalysis of the migration response. Initially, we aggregatethis net migration variable to the city level in order toconrm the results of the other two data sets and to explorethe responsiveness of population subgroups. We then con-duct household-level analysis for the nearly 400,000 house-holds in these 81 cities, including detailed information onthe household itself.For all three data sets employed, the measure of crimeused is the per capita number of index crimes that arereported to the police and collected in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s
Uniform Crime Reports.
In a previousversion of this paper, we attempted to disaggregate crimesinto violent and property, obtaining similar coefficients onboth types. In the current version, we present only estimatesaggregated over all crime categories in the tables.The proxy used for urban ight depends on the data set.When using city-level aggregates (the rst two data setsdescribed), we are limited to net population changes, whichinclude not only migration in and out of cities, but alsobirths, deaths, and immigration. Empirically, however, theprimary factor that drives city population changes is migra-tion. Roughly 6% of the U.S. population moves acrosscounty lines each year (Schwartz, 1987), compared to theannual rates of birth (1.5), death (0.9), and immigration (0.2)per hundred annually. When we use household-level data,we are able to focus directly on net migration and obtainsimilar results.
III. Correlation Between Changes in Crime andChanges in City Population
We begin our analysis by looking at simple correlationsbetween changes in crime and city population using datafrom the 1970, 1980, and 1990 censuses (the rst data setdescribed above). Figure 1 plots 10 yr. changes in per capitacrime rates against the log change in city population over thesame period. Although visual inspection of the data does notreveal an obvious pattern, the slope of a simple regression(which is overlaid in the gure) is
1.20 (standard errorequal to 0.48). The regression coefficient can be interpretedas the reduction in city residents per crime.Much of the variation in city populations in gure 1represent systematic differences in city growth rates overtime (e.g., sun-belt cities growing much more quickly thanrust-belt cities). Figure 2 is identical to gure 1, except thatcity-xed effects have been removed. The slope of the
In table 1, there are signicant differences between the means of somevariables in columns 1 and 2 compared to the PUMSdata in column 3.Thisis primarily because the PUMS data are only for 1980 (the variables inchanges are between 1975 and 1980), but the other columns cover anextended time period. For instance, unemployment is high in column 3because national unemployment was unusually high in 1980. The mostsignicant notable difference is in the row corresponding to changes inpopulation. In the rst two columns, city populations are growing; in thelast column, populations are shrinking. The explanation is that thepopulation change corresponds to total population in the rst two columns(the only data available), but is limited to
net migration
(which moreclosely corresponds to what we wish to test) in the nal column. Thegrowth in overall city population is due to births outpacing deaths, not tonet migration.
UCR data are subject to a number of criticisms. In particular, a largenumber of victimizations are not reported to the police, departments differas to how they classify crimes, department recording practices appear tohave changed over time, and the aggregate trends do not closely match thatof victimization data (O’Brien, 1985; Donohue & Siegelman, 1994; Levitt,1998). Ideally, one would like to test the sensitivity of the results usingvictimization data in place of reported crime data. Unfortunately, existingvictimization data is not disaggregated below the region level, precludingsuch a test. Note that, in the specications that include city-xed effects,any cross-department differences in crime reporting or recording areeliminated, although changes in a given city’s practices over time willaffect the estimates.

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