Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Research Papers in Economics,
Stockholm University, Department of Economics

No 2009:18: Like Godfather, Like Son: Explaining the Intergenerational Nature of Crime

Randi Hjalmarsson () and Matthew Lindquist ()
Additional contact information
Randi Hjalmarsson: University of Maryland, Postal: School of Public Policy, 4131 Van Munching Hall, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA
Matthew Lindquist: Dept. of Economics, Stockholm University, Postal: Department of Economics, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: This paper studies intergenerational correlations in crime between fathers and their children and the underlying mechanisms that give rise to these correlations. Using data from the Stockholm Birth Cohort, we find strong evidence of an intergenerational criminal relationship. Sons whose fathers have at least one sentence have 2.06 times higher odds of having a criminal conviction than sons whose fathers do not have any sentence. At the intensive margin, one additional sentence of the father increases the expected number of sons’ convictions by 32 percent. Fatherdaughter relationships are generally not significantly different than fathers-son relationships. Traditional regression techniques indicate that socioeconomic status accounts for roughly one-third of the extensive margin father-son relationship and somewhat less, particularly at the intensive margin, for daughters. Over and above this, for both sons and daughters, our ability proxies account for an additional 20 percent. Finally, household heterogeneity, the most important component of which is household instability, accounts for almost one-third of the intergenerational relationships. More direct evidence regarding whether the intergenerational correlations arise through either an inherited traits mechanism or a father as role model mechanism is provided in four alternative experiments. These experiments focus on: (i) a sample of twins, (ii) an adoptee sample, (iii) the timing of the father’s crime, and (iv) the quality of the father – child relationship. We find evidence that both direct channels play a role in the reproduction of crime from one generation to the next. Finally, we find that paternal incarceration may actually lower the number of crimes committed by some children, providing additional evidence of the importance of a behavioral transference mechanism.

Keywords: crime; illegal behavior; intergenerational crime; intergenerational mobility; risky behavior

JEL-codes: J62; K42

58 pages, October 22, 2009

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