Search the Site

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?