Divorce and Crime Victimization

While paging through the statistical tables of Criminal Victimization in the United States I found some interesting data on victimization, marriage and divorce.  The rate of victimization for violent crimes (per 1,000 persons aged 12 and over) for never married and married males is as follows:

  • Never Married Males: 45.0
  • Married Males: 12.3
Clearly, married males are older and they have settled down, usually in places away from crime hot spots.  Thus the fact that the rate of victimization for married males is much lower than for never married males is no surprise.  What did surprise me is that divorced males have rates of victimization about as high as for never married males:
  • Divorced or Separated Males: 44.2
The same pattern is even stronger for females:
  • Never Married Females: 38.4
  • Married Females: 10.3
  • Divorced or Separated Females: 49.4

The patterns are suggestive of how large a difference one’s choices can make for criminal victimization.  That is, one hypothesis to explain the data is that singles congregate in urban, high crime areas and they go out at night to bars and other high crime locations.  Married individuals move to low crime suburbs and stay home with popcorn and Netflix.  The divorced, however, move back to the cities where the singles are and they head out at night to try to mate again.

An alternative hypothesis is that the individuals who tend to get divorced have personalities or behaviors which make them more likely to get divorced and more likely to be victims of crime: a drug user, for example, is likely to have a higher probability of divorce and a higher probability of being a victim of crime than a non drug-user.

How many other hypotheses can you think of to explain the data?  What tests would you suggest to distinguish hypotheses?


Even simpler hypothesis: Crime victimization tends to occur most when people are alone, and during the evening. Married people spend fewer evenings alone.

Divorce is a huge contributor to reduced living standards and poverty. Post divorce, two housing units have to be supported on the same household income, as well as the loss of other important economies of scale that come with marriage or other quasi permanent types of cohabitation. So, I guess that divorced people don't always move to more active neighborhoods for the bar scene. Rather, they probably move to seedier, higher crime neighborhoods for the affordable rents. A test? Control for household income in the victimization data. That will create other data problems, but I think that crime victimization probably follows income pretty closely, at least until a comfortable middle class threshold is reached, at which time the correlation probably goes away.

Regarding divorced/separated females, the first thing you would need to control for is how many of them are victims of crimes committed by their former/estranged husbands.

how about: people who do not want risk get married because they perceive marriage as low-risk. this groups all the people who do not want risk together.

Compare widowers to non-widowers, controlling for demographics. The widowers (hopefully) didn't choose to become single, and thus this could identify between your two different hypotheses.

I agree with liberalarts that I would control for income.

But I would also control for race (do you see the same pattern across racial groups especially look at black Vs hispanic) , unemployment rate of community (divorces increases, new households forming decline as unemployment increases), types of crime (property crimes Vs violent crimes, fewer people in household, less time home, makes it easier to commit property crimes), renters Vs home owners (measure of income, age, and stability)

You're missing the simplest explanation: Women are tough and scare away burglars.

Like Don, I do think it is partly a reporting issue, but for different reasons.

Married people are spending the majority of their non-work time with people they know very well (spouse and kids); that reduces the risk of being a victim of violent crime, as well as reduces the likelihood of reporting it if it occurs (they're your spouse or kid!).

Unmarried people are spending the majority of their time with people they might only know marginally, or in any case less well. Increased likelihood of being "surprised" by "someone I thought I knew", and less hesitation to turn them in.

WaPo had a story awhile back which described how young people were choosing not to marry because they had so little economic stability. I suspect the strong association here is between economic insecurity and crime victimization.

Looks like a correlation with poverty. How many of those divorced/separated women are single mothers?

Do divorcees really reside in central cities more than the married? Can't we control for location?

What if you control for kids-- divorced with kids seems likely to stay put in the suburbs. On the other hand if they have severe personality/drug problems then courts may remove the children.

Or, how about using the court's custody hearings as an instrument for custody, a la Three Strikes?

(If you wanna co-author this sucka lemme know.) ;)

Sometimes mental illness (bipolar, anxiety, OCD, and all the usual disorders) comes into the picture. Obviously illness can run in families if there are children, and in certain conditions people self-select to be with people like themselves (possibly influencing the original choice of a mate). People marry when younger, and as untreated illness worsens, they can divorce and are older. I'd look at health issues like this along with the economic issues of reduced living standards/expectations.

To control for personality, I would consider two approaches:

I would compare widows/widowers with divorced/separated, and I would look at previously-divorced married people.

Its not only that divorcees move back into urban areas, but because of financial loss due to the divorce, they end up living in seedy areas of town where they are exposed to increased crime.

Married people with kids live in the suburbs and exurbs for a reason. That reason is safety, good schools, and a place to raise kids where they do not have to be exposed to the seedier aspects of adult life (except for the 'net and the telly, of course). It is also well-known that the higher the income of the parents, the more money they invest to ensure that there kids do not have to go to school with or to mix with the kids of the NAM's (non-Asian minorities for the un-initiated).

Q: Who tends to get victimized by crime?
A: People in high-crime areas.

Q: Who lives in high-crime areas?
A: Poor people.

Q: Who doesn't get married?
A: Poor people.

I think the Game-sters would say that marriage inevitably leads to beta-ization which lowers testosterone reducing the level of actual violence. :) As for why they are less likely to be victimized, maybe it is obvious to everyone that they are "herbs" without anything worth stealing or fighting over...

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