"Child maltreatment roughly doubles the probability that an individual engages in many types of crime. This is true even if we compare twins, one of whom was maltreated when the other one was not."
Child maltreatment, which includes both child abuse and child neglect, is a major social problem. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over a million children are victims of maltreatment annually. Over half a million children suffer serious injuries, and about 1500 children die, making child maltreatment the leading cause of deaths from injuries in children over a year old. In addition to this appalling immediate toll, child abuse is thought to have many harmful long-term consequences.
In Does Child Abuse Cause Crime? (NBER Working Paper No. 12171), authors Janet Currie and Erdal Tekin focus on the effect of child maltreatment on crime using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). They focus on crime because it is one of the most socially costly potential outcomes of maltreatment, and because the proposed mechanisms linking maltreatment and crime are relatively well elucidated in the literature.
The authors find that child maltreatment roughly doubles the probability that an individual engages in many types of crime. This is true even if we compare twins, one of whom was maltreated when the other one was not. It is useful to put this result in perspective by comparing it to other estimates of the effects of factors related to crime. For example, using time-series data from New York, previous researchers found that a single percentage point decline in unemployment generates only a 2.2 percentage point decline in burglaries, and that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage leads to about a 3.5 percent decrease in robberies in New York City.
The authors cite various studies that show that having access to a gun at home increases the propensity to commit a variety of crimes, by about 30 percent...