No clear causal relationship between economic condition and crime rates, says expert

KHAIRAH N. KARIM
KHAIRAH N. KARIM
17 Oct 2023 01:40pm
A recent trend analysis conducted from 2013 to 2021 in the country revealed that economic conditions and certain types of crime did not exhibit a clear causal relationship. - Photo: Forensic Science Programme, USM
A recent trend analysis conducted from 2013 to 2021 in the country revealed that economic conditions and certain types of crime did not exhibit a clear causal relationship. - Photo: Forensic Science Programme, USM
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SHAH ALAM - Anecdotal evidence and media accounts which depict rising crime rates have either directly or implicitly inferred a causal association between the recent economic challenges and increases in property crimes and white-collar offences.

This, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) criminologist and psychologist Associate Professor Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat said was because determining economic factors that affected crime rates was difficult because although there may be a correlation, there may not be direct causation.

She said the economic challenges were having serious effects on the federal and state budgets, as well as consumer consumption and as the country grappled with economic challenges, public goods and services have suffered due to shrinking budgets, affecting the standard of living.

“In addition, an individual economic factor may not be isolated for the determination of dominancy as many factors are often present simultaneously.

“For example, when unemployment rates go up, robbery may increase, but unemployment does not cause robbery,” she told Sinar Daily.

She said various studies have explored the connection between economic variables like unemployment, recession and crime rates, yielding diverse conclusions.

She added that while some suggested a correlation between unemployment and increased crime, others argued that the relationship was not so straightforward.

A review of these studies has indicated various conclusions, she said.

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"Firstly, a study comparing 16 countries' crime trends from 1990 to 2014 found no significant relationship between per capita income and crime rates (Answer et al, 2020).

"In China, another study discovered that rural-urban migration from more violent regions contributes to higher homicide rates in destination cities (Dong et al, 2020).

"In Indonesia, it was found that poverty has a negative relationship with crime, meaning that as poverty increases by one percent, crime tends to decrease (Muhtar & Rusli, 2021).

"Lastly, when comparing 166 countries from 2006 to 2019, van Dijk et al (2021) found that dimensions of governance emerged as powerful determinants of various crime types. They also noted that poverty, wealth, and urbanisation showed no significant associations with either homicide or organised crime.

"The above studies indicate that the relationship between unemployment rates and crime can best be described as mixed, inconclusive and varied depending upon the type of data used and the statistical methods for analysing the data," she said.

Geshina said with the lack of opportunities during economic downturns, the assumption was that more people turned to crime to compensate for income deficiencies.

For example, she said Cantor and Land (1985) argued that a weaker economy will increase criminal motivation.

She said this expectancy was further supported by Isaac Ehrlich’s (1973) suggestion that individuals will engage in theft and other property-related crimes as a result of increasing relative deprivation.

However, a study conducted by Clarke and Witt (2000) suggested that high unemployment rates have a negative effect on crime, she added.

"Clarke and Witt’s reasoning is that unemployed workers deter others from crime because people then stay closer to their homes, thus decreasing their chance of being a crime victim," she said.

These conflicting reports, Geshina said attested to the previously mentioned viewpoints that higher wages did not necessarily translate into reduced criminal activity.

She said there were also other factors that impacted crime rates such as the zonal location of population density, zonal location of industrialisation, affluent residencies versus slums, consumer trends, holiday and national celebrations, school times versus school holidays, community crime prevention efforts as well as culture and neighbourhood tolerance of violence and property crime, among others.

A recent trend analysis Geshina and her team conducted from 2013 to 2021 in the country revealed that economic conditions and certain types of crime did not exhibit a clear causal relationship.

For instance, in 2020 when unemployment increased, property and violent crime rates decreased.

She said there were many researches conducted on the matter and more research needed to be done comparing zones, strata and other socioeconomic factors.

“Giving welfare to the poor does not solve the problem of poverty.

“Other mechanisms include compulsory education, better wages and medico-health related services, better infrastructure and public transport, reduced inequalities, safer neighbourhoods, and better governance need to be in place and enforced,” she added.