Crime and Contraception

Something “funny” is happening to the UK crime rate. It is going down.

OK I know there’s some political massaging of figures and fiddling around the edges to make things look better. 

But really, there is less crime now (especially violent crime) than there was back in the 80’s and 90’s.

Here’s the graph from here

“Yea! Ba-Phooey!” I hear you cry. Its the bloody BBC again!

Well, yes. 

But even so, (believe me) crime has decreased significantly since 1995. Of course there is still ugly peaks and troughs as various types of criminality go in or out of fashion. 

Yet statistically, looking across the board, the crime rate (especially violent crime) has decreased.

But Why?

There are those who will tell you its because of “more modern” policing, or some special social program, more bobbies on the beat or even less bobbies on the beat.

But no. People suggesting such things are often simply making it up as they go along. They are simply mouthing their best guess.

But there is a solidly researched and scientifically verifiable reason.

I must admit though I do find that reason somewhat discomforting.

My Eureka moment regarding a falling crime rate came when I was about one third the way through a fantastically enlightening and entertaining book called FreakanomicsLink Here. (stunningly important book – read it!)

I reached Chapter Four “Where have all the Criminals Gone?” It was, to put it biblically, like having the scales fall from my eyes.

Freakanomics is an American book. The USA peaked out their crime rate in 1989 – not too different from the UK in 1995. So I wondered if the reason for the collapse in the American crime rate was mirrored in the UK. 

But before we look at that lets explore the reasons for the USA crime rate fall.

Why did the USA crime rate peak in 1989? Why has it been falling ever since? Put simply, the USA introduced abortion on demand around 1970.

Who has an abortion? Back before 1970 in the USA it was only the relatively wealthy and well connected. 

After 1970 abortion became increasingly available to all income groups. So if you were a poor vulnerable girl who accidentally became pregnant, instead of becoming a failing young mother, you now had abortion as an answer to an otherwise desperate situation.

The birth rate to low income single teenage girls collapsed. Young unsophisticated girls, often barely more than children and usually the product of a casual teenage liaison themselves were allowed to grow up without the burden of an unwanted and (often) uncared-for child to look after.

Before the introduction of freely available abortion the offspring of these often feral teenagers grew up to become feral teenagers themselves. The cycle continued.

As they grew up these accidental children had no role model (beyond the local drug-dealer). As the males matured many turned to criminality (90% of crime is attributable to young males). Or if female – they got pregnant and simply re-fuelled the vicious social lock-in that had brought them into the world in the first place.

Criminality is mostly a problem among feral young males aged 15 to 27. After the age of 27 there is a marked and prolonged decrease in male criminality. Of course other groups do commit crimes but young males from broken or non-existent homes form the bulk of modern day criminals.

With each passing year after 1970 the abortions continued. The reservoir of future criminals decreased. Then in 1989 about twenty years after the introduction of freely available abortion in the USA, the reservoir began to empty. The physical number of criminals in their early twenties or late teens began to decrease.

Less uncared-for feral children make for less young criminals. And less young criminals make for less crime.

Stunningly simple. Even though it feels somewhat discomforting.

So does this scenario pan out for the UK too? It looks like it does. 

When abortion was introduced into the UK in 1969 uptake was relatively slow. In 1970 the number of abortions was 86,000 while in 1975 (twenty years before the peak in crime rate) it had risen to 140,000. From then on it levelled off at around 190,000. Today it is just over 200,000 per year.

So around 20 years after the provision of easily accessible abortion in the UK, the crime rate started to fall. Just as it had in the USA.

This is not to say that this is the only reason for falling crime rates but it is without doubt a (very) major factor.

But nobody (and I base this on many conversations with female friends) likes abortion as a method of birth control.

Ironically the best way to avoid abortions is not by abstention (didn’t work in the 80’s and won’t work now) but by free and readily available contraception. Especially to those most likely to fall into the teenage pregnancy trap and are sadly the least likely to get pro-active support and help.

Maybe by pro-actively promoting contraception more we can reduce the abortion rate and still keep the benefits of a lower crime rate.

Remember the problem here is with contraception for young people who are probably already having difficulty growing up and need to be guided by more capable individuals. For example we are not dealing with the typical emancipated and pro-active young woman who can sort her self out.

Criminality is driven by a surprisingly small sector of society. (more in a later post). That is why the advent of freely available abortion has had such a large impact upon it. 

But abortion can be traumatic. A better regime of contraceptive support especially for the vulnerable can cut this trauma and still reduce unwanted pregnancies.

To me promoting contraception seems a much better idea than simply relying on abortion. While maintaining a falling crime rate is a big societal bonus.

I think few would disagree.


Anonymous said...

So much has changed culturally over the last half century that it seems to me doubtful to attribute it to any one development.

I'd suggest as factors:

a general decline in material acquisitiveness -- goods have declined as status markers relative to assets and experiences;

Theft moving to online scams;

Decline in binge drinking among younger people;

Dating moving online/to apps (less fighting due to accidentally chatting up someone else's woman in pubs n clubs)

BilloTheWisp said...

Thanks for the comment.

I think it fair to say I was at first surprised and sceptical about this idea when I came across it too.

But the arguments put in the book Freakanomics (you can pick up a copy for a couple quid/dollars) were (to me) at the end quite convincing.

Obviously there are other changes as well that will impact the decline, and you highlight some. These other reasons are also covered quite well in the section in the book that deals with this. (it is a USA book but wherever you live the parallels I am sure will be strong).

While the book dates from the early 2000's I think it is still quite relevant.

It explores a load of other aspects related to crime as well and is a surprisingly good read.

Anonymous said...

The coorolation is one of many in a chain of events, the a major decline in morality in the 20th century fueled by the advent of Hollywood and all its filth led to more immoral behavior which brought about the sexual revolution and your narrative fits into the bigger picture.
So, sure, killing off infant criminals before they are born likely has the effect of reducing crime.
However elemininating the conception of these future criminals would be a far better solution and result in far less bloodshed.
And if one would include all the murdered babies in the statistic it would flatten the line on the graph and maybe the drop in crime would not be much noticed.
Seems like murdered babies( desguised as choice) doesn’t count in the crime statistics.

BilloTheWisp said...

I think you must have accidentally published the same comment twice so I've only put the first up. Hope that is OK.

I'd agree that pregnancy prevention is a much more palatable way of solving this problem.

But realistically you must accept that some people will have sex irrespective of what the outcome is. Then without adequate contraception girls will get pregnant.

Without abortion babies will be born to very young, immature and naive mothers. These young mothers (usually poor, uneducated with little family support themselves) will struggle and often fail to bring up the child properly.

The statistics show (to me anyway) that abortion was the primary driver in the reduction of crime 15-20 years later.

A proper, well-funded and pro-active contraceptive service would IMHO have the same beneficial effects on society without the trauma of abortion.

We cannot turn the clock back. But we can improve on what we have.