Does a “Baby Bonus” Mean More Crime?

That’s the question asked by an Australian reader named Peter Gartlan:

In 2004, the Australian government introduced a $4,000 lump sum payment for having a baby, known as the Baby Bonus. [Note: it was judged to be somewhat effective.]

The anecdotal evidence is that this instantly created a huge wave of young unmarried teenage mothers from lower socioeconomic communities who saw the BB as a great big “free money” sign.  At the time it was also referred to as the “Plasma TV” bonus. Anyway, many teenage mothers had many babies, and received many payments. But obviously the motivation was money, not family. And $4,000 does not go very far when bringing up kids, as you know.

So after I read your “Abortion Reduces Crime” study, I wondered whether the BB would demonstrate the inverse scenario.

As you will note in this article from my local newspaper, it appears there is now evidence of the beginnings of a new juvenile crime wave.

It is easy to see how a baby bonus, like a variety of bounties we’ve explored, can have unintended consequences. It is a good research question, to be sure. (Australia is hardly the only country to have tried this.)

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  1. Tim says:

    In his book, ‘The better angels of our nature’, Stephen Pinker offers a robust argument against the abortion-law/crime hypothesis. He makes a strong case, backed by data, that any link to abortion rates is far too simplistic and erroneous.
    I’d be keen to hear the Freakonomics view on Pinker’s argument.

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    • MW says:

      I’ve seen a more recent hypothesis that it was lead in petrol which caused the 1970s crime explosion and its elimination which caused the 1990s decline. (And that regional differences in residual lead levels partly account for regional differences in crime rates today.) This hypothesis has the advantage of explaining the coordinated international nature of the rise and fall in crime rates.

      As I recall, one of Pinker’s objections was that they abortion hypothesis should have lead to a decrease in the youngest offenders first, then moving up in age as the abortion-era cohort aged – however, the reverse of this was seen (rates of crime dropped first in older age groups.) This objection would also apply to the leaded petrol hypothesis.

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  2. Maruti Prasanna says:

    There is an interesting article on MotherJones which proposes a slightly different theory stating that leaded fuel (the presence of lead in the atmosphere) tends to reduce IQ levels and increase risk taking which leads to higher crime rates. Once it was banned the crime rates reduced.

    It is also proposed that lower rates of diseases and lower concentration of pollutants esp in developed countries is the driver behind the Flynn effect which tends to support the earlier observation. Any takes/opinions on this?

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    • James says:

      Seems a strained hypothesis to me, almost bordering on wishful thinking. Why should intelligence be negatively correlated with risk taking, for instance? Many intelligent people do quite risky things, from rock climbing to becoming astronauts.

      Similarly, why should intelligence negatively correlate with crime rates? There certainly might be a correlation with ARREST rates, since by and large only the less intelligent criminals get caught, but certainly my own experience has been that greater intelligence leads directly to more questioning of laws (and everything else).

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  3. Joe S. says:

    If you lay out all of the facts, this idea certainly makes sense and is almost the direct opposite of the “Abortion Reduces Crime.” The subjects of the study are the same type of people (poor, young, usually unstable livelihood, and trouble supporting a family).
    In this study instead of receiving legality and the incentive to abort the child, they are gaining an incentive to have the child. This decision makes for many more unmarried, young mothers who now must raise this child with very little of the required ability. The decision to have the baby was poorly thought out with the idea of money instead of family. Like is said, the 4000 dollar bonus will take you almost nowhere in raising a child although it will buy you a nice T.V.
    I feel that most of the people who take advantage of this offer are not thinking of the future and have more children for the temporary financial gift. To me, this is just asking for trouble, and if previous studies ring true we could be looking at more trouble and more crime on the horizon.

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  4. Phil says:

    Anecdotally, vandalism and littering in and around my house increased dramatically after the birth of my child. So I think we can safely file this one away as “confirmed”.

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