The Inequality of Crime. Trends in offending and victimization among social groups and communities

Project leader


Funding source

Swedish Research Council - Vetenskapsrådet (VR)

Project Details

Start date: 01/01/2016
End date: 31/12/2018
Funding: 5373000 SEK


Since the mid-1990s many countries have experienced a reduction of crime rates. Significant reductions were first recorded in the US. Subsequently, salient reductions of crime rates were noted in a number of other countries, not least in Western Europe. This decline of crime rates – the Crime Drop – constitutes an unexpected social change. Although the question of the development of crime trends has long been a topical issue among researchers the media, politicians and the public seem to have been in agreement in that criminality, violent crime in particular, is increasing. However, contemporary international criminological research focuses on trying to unfold the driving forces of the Crime Drop of recent decades. Still, very few of these studies address the issue of if and how trends differ for various socio-economic strata. In the research literature there seems to be an implicit assumption that the declining crime trend is common to all groups in society. This project problematizes this assumption.

The post-war era was signified by an initial period of rapidly increasing crime rates, followed by a decline starting in the 1990s. Both Swedish cohort data on offenders and victimization surveys, in Sweden and elsewhere, show that crime has declined in recent years.

During the same period in which we can observe a declining crime rate, inequality in other areas of material well-being has increased. In Sweden this materializes as e.g. increasing income inequality and housing segregation. We claim that both empirical research and the theoretical understanding of crime trends could be made more complete by unfolding how the social gradient of crime and victimization is linked to the development in other areas of material well-being. The overarching aim of the project is to analyse how the trends of the distribution of crime in the population and among residential areas have developed across recent decades. We focus on both offending and victimization.

Within this general framework we plan a number of studies of the development with reference to 1) criminal offenders, 2) victimization and fear of crime, and 3) the distribution of crime at the level of residential areas. The purpose of the analyses within these three subprojects is to analyse development across time and to identify the mechanisms behind changes in the social and spatial distribution of crime. Hereby we will be able to provide a deeper analysis of the development and advance the understanding of how the development of crime and inequality are linked.

In the project we will be using administrative register data and high quality victimization surveys. From an international perspective these various data sources, taken together, give the project a unique opportunity to analyse the inequality of crime and its development. Outside Scandinavia there is no counterpart to the administrative register data we intend to use; where the development of offending can be linked to a number factors at both the individual level and the level of residential areas. The victimization surveys are of very high quality as well, and include e.g. information at the residential area level.

Through studies of the development of both criminal offending and victimization in various social groups the project will be able to make important contributions to the interpretation and the theoretical understanding of the Crime Drop of recent decades. The project will also provide important contributions to research on the consequences of inequality. The project explores topical issues with high quality data and thereby places itself at the very frontier of international criminological research.

Last updated on 2017-27-07 at 11:13