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Parenting, Crime, and Misinterpretation of Studies

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There is an intriguing study about the fall of the Berlin Wall that is producing a lot of misleading headlines.  For example, the London Telegraph has this story by Jeevan Vasagar, which an editor has headlined, How the fall of the Berlin Wall may have raised a generation of criminals.

Huh?  Could the fall of the Berlin Wall really have had the pernicious effect of causing people to be criminals?  No.  That is not what the study actually shows.

Start with the unremarkable proposition that good parenting is a major determinant in whether a person grows up to be a law-abiding citizen.  Add the equally unremarkable proposition that, as an overall trend, babies born to families who planned to have them are more likely to be blessed with good parenting than those whose arrival was not a desired result.

Next, if events cause great uncertainty for the future, so that women who would otherwise have had planned pregnancies decide to put off their childbearing for a few years, then the unplanned will be a greater proportion of the cohort of children born in those years.  If the unplanned have the same crime rate as they otherwise would, the overall crime rate for the cohort is higher because their numbers are not buffered by as many of the planned children as they otherwise would have been.

That is apparently what happened in East Germany in the early 1990s.

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