SWOV Catalogus


Heavy alcohol use and the commission of nuisance crime : evidence from underage drunk driving laws.
20051988 ST [electronic version only]
Carpenter, C.S.
American Economic Review, Vol. 95 (2005), No. 2 (May), p. 267-272, 17 ref.

Samenvatting There is extensive evidence documenting a strong relationship between alcohol use and crime. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that over a third of convicted offenders in 1996 were drinking at the time of their offense (1998). The evidence is less clear, however, that heavy alcohol use causes individuals to commit crime, for example by increasing aggression, lowering inhibition, or altering perceptions of acceptable behavior. Alternatively, it could be that some unobserved third factor such as risk preference causes individuals both to consume alcohol and to commit crime. In this case, one might observe a positive relationship between alcohol use and crime even in the absence of a true causal effect. Indeed, this is the sentiment echoed in the introductory quote: even in the presence of a strong alcohol/crime relationship, it is not clear that reducing alcohol consumption would subsequently reduce crime. A key difficulty in identifying a compelling research design that would credibly estimate the causal effect of alcohol use on crime is finding a mechanism that generates arguably exogenous variation in alcohol consumption. In this paper, the author uses adoption of tougher drunk driving laws aimed at youth under age 21 to estimate the effect of heavy episodic alcohol use on the commission of crime. These “Zero Tolerance” (ZT) laws were enacted by every state over the past two decades and substantially lowered the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for underage drivers. Previous research has shown that these tougher laws reduced heavy episodic drinking by young men age 18-20 but had no effect on slightly older males age 22-24 (Carpenter 2004a). In the context of identifying effects of alcohol use on crime, ZT laws are particularly attractive because 1) adoption of tougher drunk driving policies is arguably uncorrelated with omitted determinants of criminal behavior; 2) there is substantial variation across states in the timing of policy adoption; and 3) the laws create sharp predictions about which age groups should have been affected. The author focuses on nuisance crimes such as vandalism, public drunkenness, and disorderly conduct; evidence suggests that these socially costly crimes may be particularly sensitive to heavy alcohol use. Wechsler et al. (2002), for example, found that neighborhoods surrounding college campuses with high rates of binge drinking were more likely to experience negative “secondhand effects” such as noise and disturbances, vandalism, drunkenness, vomiting, and urination than other neighborhoods. Indeed, some of the most compelling previous research in this area found strong effects of alcohol use on nuisance crime. Joksch and Jones (1993) used well-documented variation in alcohol availability induced by increases in states’ Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) in the 1980s and found that higher MLDAs were associated with a lower incidence of vandalism and disorderly conduct (on the order of 10 percent) among the treated age groups relative to those unaffected by the more restrictive alcohol policy. A more recent study used data on individuals age 12 and older from the 1991 cross section of the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and found that beer taxes were negatively related to self-reported property damage (Saffer 2001). In fact, most studies in the alcohol and crime literature have also used variation in the level of the state beer tax, but few have focused on nuisance crimes. (Author/publisher)
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