Posted on July 5, 2011

Why Immigrants Help Your City Stay Crime Free

Richard Florida, Financial Times, June 30, 2011


Research from the Brookings Institution recently noted that the hubs of the 100 largest US metro areas benefited most from declining crime rates. But even in the suburbs, the results were surprising: “Older higher-density suburbs saw crime drop at a faster pace than newer, lower-density emerging and exurban communities on the metropolitan fringe.”

When crime rates first began to plummet in the 1990s, economists such as Freakonomics author Steven Levitt argued that legalised abortion had been responsible, since unwanted children were more likely to grow up to be criminals. Others suggested America’s astronomical incarceration rates could be responsible. {snip}

Elsewhere, big city police forces developed clever statistical methods to target crime, many of which proved successful. We as individuals changed our behaviour too–from locking our doors to investing in burglar alarms for our homes and special locks for our cars.


More interestingly, however, the relationship between crime and race has greatly weakened too. From evening news headlines to crime shows on TV, popular culture underlines the propinquity between crime and race. The Brookings research assembles powerful evidence to show that that relationship has in fact declined significantly over the past two or three decades.

{snip} Criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University suggests that a similar “Obama effect” might be at work today, in which young black males’ increased optimism about their futures makes them more likely to refrain from violence.

But there is another factor in play that might be even more important: the growing racial, ethnic and demographic diversity of our cities and metro areas. Our analysis found the Hispanic share of the population is negatively associated with urban crime. Crime also fell alongside the percentage of the population that is non-white, and the percentage that is gay. But of all the variables, the one most consistently negatively associated with crime is a place’s percentage of foreign-born residents.


Along with their entrepreneurial energy and their zeal to succeed, it turns out that immigrants are good neighbours too. They exhibit many cultural and economic factors that militate against criminal behaviour, not just in their own enclaves but in surrounding communities as well.