A Diverse, Well Behaved, Generation

The segment of White America that regards the country’s shifting demography with terror has a range of cultural and economic fears (well documented by journalists like Nancy LaTourneau and Ed Kilgore).  Among these anxieties is that a less white America will necessarily become a more crime-ridden America.  The latest criminal justice data on the most diverse generation of young people in the nation’s history provides a dramatic demonstration to the contrary:

The rising racially and ethnically diverse generation of adolescents is substantially more law abiding than were the older, whiter generations who are sometimes afraid of them. The pervasiveness of the change is remarkable. Over the past decade, juvenile arrests are sharply down for every class of crime the government tracks, including violent (-48%), property (-61%), drug (-47%), and weapon (-54%).

Some people might argue that declining arrests doesn’t mean less crime (on the questionable theory that if there’s one thing police hate to do, it’s arrest people of color). Skeptics should note the many other positive indicators about this generation of adolescents: They are less likely than prior generations to binge drink, become pregnant, or drop out of high school. They are, in short, “good kids”.

For those hawking apocalyptic visions of a brown tide of youthful violence and disorder, these data are the worst possible news.  But for everyone else, the explosion of lawfulness among the young is one of the most positive, underappreciated developments in years.  And it will have radiating, positive impacts for decades as avoiding the criminal justice system allows more young people to pursue their education, secure good jobs, and form healthy and happy families. Meanwhile, cities, counties, and states, can safely redirect resources from correctional facilities toward more productive investments. American diversity has never looked so good.


Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

6 thoughts on “A Diverse, Well Behaved, Generation”

    1. kendoran, you beat me to it. The lead-crime hypothesis — which Kevin Drum has so thoroughly explained in his series of postings at Mother Jones — explains just nearly everything we’ve seen concerning both the original jump in crime from 1960-1996 or so, and it’s subsequent steep decline. Thanks for posting the link.

      1. I’m further intrigued by the fact that today’s youngest teens are being raised by parents who are mostly lead-free themselves, the first in generations. Maybe better parenting will also have an effect.

        On the down side, mass incarceration of parents has probably had a negative effect. We’re only slowly decreasing incarceration, and the benefit of more intact families/less crime among kids will take even longer to occur.

  1. {sarcasm} That younger generation is getting arrested less because it hasn’t had the same opportunities to engage in white-collar (pun intended) crime as the older generations. The diminished number of trust-fund kids has grievously impacted the “idle rich” subdemographic. {/sarcasm}

    And, of course, there’s a secondary issue here: “Arrest” and “guilt” are two entirely different things. At least some of the difference — how much, it’s impossible to know — is wound up in who “the usual suspects” who are to be rounded up are. Particularly given that ICE rounding up (alleged) immigrants may not count as an arrest!

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