Why Aren’t There More Old Criminals?
The Freakonomics in-box regularly fills up with interesting tales (like this one and this one). The other day, a reader from Dallas named Erik Hille took reader e-mail to a whole new level. He was writing about the Feb. 1 entry in our fact-a-day calendar, which excerpts a fact from our book in the chapter on crime:
“The average sixty-five-year-old person is about one-fiftieth as likely to be arrested as the average teenager.”
As you will see, Hille turns reading into an interactive sport. I hope you enjoy his contribution as much as I did. Here’s what he had to say:
Being an actuarial retirement plan consultant, I was interested in why this might be true:
Most criminals have retired by age 65. They are better at planning for retirement and better at funding their retirement than the rest of us. Occupational hazards require early retirement. Geriatric conditions are not compatible with criminal behavior. The incidence of disability is high, and Social Security and disability benefits pay more than crime would for a disabled criminal (sort of like the Social Security argument below). Very few criminals have survived in the general population to age 65, due to mortality and permanent incarceration (otherwise know as a life term without parole). (It might be noted that when Social Security was first introduced, the average life expectancy [in the U.S.] was around 65, and only about 50 percent of the population was expected to actually live to collect Social Security benefits.) Social Security pays better than criminal activity (similar to your documentation of gang members making the equivalent of minimum wage). Criminals are not very good at inventing new modus operandi, and after being caught a few times for the same racket, they often realize that the cops are onto their schemes. Senior criminals are just better at [crime] than teenagers, and know how not to get caught. Senior criminals have all graduated to white-collar crime, and are no longer hunted by the police or included in crime statistics. New younger criminals and recent criminal immigrants have taken over that segment of the economy. Senior criminals have been promoted to management positions where they are less likely to be charged with a crime, as they are not directly associated with criminal acts under investigation. Senior criminals have hired younger criminals to do their work for them (a combination of the above two). It is generational: 45 to 55 years ago, when the current 65-year-old criminals were teenagers and would have been starting their criminal careers, a much smaller percentage of the population was engaged in criminal activity. Or, if they were engaged in criminal activity, such activity was later legalized (e.g., alcohol and pornography). Forty-five to 55 years ago, abortion was not legal, but shotgun weddings were culturally enforced. Thus, there were fewer children raised by single parents, and, by correlation, fewer criminals.
Is there anything that Mr. Hille hasn’t covered?