Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Can education policy be used to fight crime?

by Randi Hjalmarsson, Helena Holmlund and Matthew Lindquist


November 29, 2011

How should society fight crime? This column argues education policy should be part of the answer. Exploiting a Swedish education reform as a source of exogenous variation in years of education, it suggests that one additional year of schooling decreases the likelihood of conviction by 7.5% for males and by 11% for females.

How should society fight crime? Should we adopt tough-on-crime policies that increase monitoring and lengthen prison sentences? Or should we adopt a softer strategy aimed at alleviating poverty and combating discrimination?

In the past decade, economists have entered this ongoing debate in earnest. An excellent example of this new engagement is Cook and Ludwig (2011), which proposes three concrete policies for fighting crime:
  • Increasing mandatory schooling
  • Encouraging private self-protection initiatives; and
  • Raising alcohol taxes.
Their approach is not based on the rhetoric of soft versus hard strategies, but rather a rational choice framework in which effective policy makes crime less attractive and law-abiding behaviour more attractive and helps citizens make better-informed decisions. Furthermore, their suggestions are the by-products of the policy evaluation literature aimed at determining which policies actually work.

Here, we focus solely on their first suggestion – increasing mandatory education – and report a more detailed account of the research underlying the idea that education policy can, in fact, be used to fight crime.


Read the Paper

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