Young Americans More Likely to Be Arrested Than Previous Generations: Study

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Photo by Caitlin Regan via Flickr

Americans under the age of 26 are much more likely to be arrested than Americans born in previous decades, with the increase in arrest rates occurring most rapidly among white Americans and women, according to a new study by the Rand Corporation.

Author James P Smith, the Distinguished Chair in Labor Markets and Demographic Studies at the RAND Corporation, argues the rising rate of arrests and convictions are associated with lower probabilities of being married, fewer weeks worked, lower hourly wages, and lower family incomes during Americans adulthood.

Data showed that people between ages 26 and 35 were 3.6 times more likely to have been arrested as compared to those who were at least 66 years old. About one-third of the men between the age of 26 and 35 had been arrested during their youth, 2.6 times the rate of those 66 and older.

However, women experienced an even more rapid relative increase in arrests, according to the findings.

Among those aged 66 and older, arrests before age 26 occurred among only one in 100 participants. But among those aged 26 to 35, about one in every seven women had been arrested at least once by age 26.

Moreover, Smith found that black men were more likely to have been arrested during their youth than white men (33 percent for blacks compared with 23 percent for whites), but the probability of being arrested was converging over time between the races.

“Increased enforcement is likely a critical driver of this trend,” Smith wrote in his report. “This evidence suggests that the growing criminalization of American youth is increasingly affecting all races and genders.”

Smith collected data from a survey of participants in the national Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which has gathered information for 50 years about 5,000 American families and 35,000 individuals living in those families

Significantly, Smith found that being arrested for a crime was associated with a 3.5 percentage point drop in the likelihood of being married, with multiple arrests further lowering the likelihood of marriage.

People arrested only once during childhood had about $6,000 less in annual earning as adults, with the earnings even lower (about $13,000 less) if someone had multiple arrests during childhood. People with violence or drug arrests averaged about $11,000 less in annual earnings.

“It is imperative that we better document the relative role played by criminal activity and enforcement because the trends have long-term consequences both for individuals and our society,” Smith concluded.

This summary was prepared by TCR senior staff writer Megan Hadley. Readers’ comments welcome.

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