How does childhood economic disadvantage lead to crime?

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2004 Jul;45(5):956-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.t01-1-00288.x.


Background: This study sought to examine the associations between indices of socio-economic deprivation in childhood and later involvement in crime.

Method: Data were gathered as part of the Christchurch Health and Development Study. In this project a cohort of 1,265 children born in Christchurch in 1977 have been studied from birth to age 21 years. The measures collected included: self-reported property and violent crime (15-16, 17-18, and 20-21 years); officially recorded convictions for property/violent crime; measures of childhood socio-economic status; and a series of intervening factors, including parenting (use of physical punishment, maternal care, family change, parental attachment, parental offending), individual (conduct and attention problems), school (truancy, suspensions, examination performance, scholastic ability), and peer factors (affiliations with deviant and substance using peers).

Results: The results suggest that childhood socio-economic disadvantage was associated with clear increases in rates of both self-reported crime and officially recorded convictions. However, using block recursive negative binomial regression models a range of parental, individual, school, and peer factors were found to intervene between socio-economic disadvantage and crime. Following introduction of these measures into the models, the association between socio-economic disadvantage and crime became both statistically and practically non-significant.

Conclusions: This study suggests that the higher rates of crime found amongst young people from socio-economically disadvantaged families reflect a life course process in which adverse family, individual, school, and peer factors combine to increase individual susceptibility to crime.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Crime / psychology*
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Juvenile Delinquency / psychology*
  • Male
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Peer Group
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Schools
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Vulnerable Populations