More Sneezing, Less Crime?

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An allergy to pollen, medically considered hay fever, affects roughly 20 million American adults. The symptoms are well known: sinus swelling, coughing and itchy eyes.

However, beyond simply ruining your day, high pollen counts may actually be doing our society some good.

New research published in the Journal of Health and Economics finds that allergies may be curtailing criminal behavior.

Using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Weather Underground detailing pollen counts from 16 cities, including New York City, researchers found that crime rates were 4 percent lower on high-pollen days.

“The effect of an unusually high pollen day on violent crime attenuates in weeks with higher average weekly pollen levels,” the report continues.

Then, to dive deeper into their findings, the researchers compared New York City’s residential versus non-residential crime data to look for a relationship between high pollen counts and crimes committed at home.

They expected to see less crimes outside and more indoors due to the pollen count, but surprisingly found the opposite.

“There is a sizable decrease (4.4 percent) in residential violence on high pollen days, and no statistically significant change in outdoor violence,” the report says.

“These findings deepen our understanding of violent behavior – in particular, the extent to which violence is responsive to situational factors,” the authors write.

While the researchers acknowledge that this is a “first stage” relationship between high pollen count and lower violence in our cities, they argued the results of their study have far-reaching implications when it comes to individual’s “situational factors,” behavior, and health.

In this study’s case, the “situational factors” are whether an individual is feeling healthy.

Monica Deza, one of the study’s authors, and an associate professor of economics at Hunter College of the City University of New York, recently spoke with The Colorado Springs Independent about the research.

Deza explained that she was inspired to examine the effects of a pollen as a “health shock” on criminal behavior because previous studies have linked things like televised football games and higher temperatures to lower crime rates.

However, none of those factors go from “0-100 in a single day” the same way pollen can, she told the Independent.

“If it takes something like a health shock to make people — to prevent this situation of domestic, residential violence,” Deza said in her interview, “maybe these programs that teach people how to think before they act — how to not respond so instantaneously with violence…might actually have long-term consequences.”

The other study authors are Aaron Chalfin of the University of Pennsylvania; and Shooshan Danagoulian of Wayne State University.

The full study, More sneezing, less crime? Health shocks and the market for offenses, is available for purchase here.

Andrea Cipriano is a staff writer for The Crime Report.

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