Having a child is a profoundly important milestone in any adult’s life. You may change where you live, where you work, and with whom you spend your time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a new paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that parents also become far less likely to commit crimes.
The study, authored by economists Maxim Masenkoff and Evan Rose, uses a unique dataset that combines records on the arrests, births, marriages, and divorces associated with over a million parents in Washington State. Using these data, the authors address a deceptively simple question: what happens to mothers’ and fathers’ propensity to commit crimes when they have a child? More specifically, Masenkoff and Rose are interested in what the qualitative literature calls the “turning point” model of parenthood, which has many first-time parents reporting that the birth of their first child was when they got their lives together.
The effects of parenthood on arrest risk, it turns out, are large. For both mothers and fathers, risk of arrest declines across the four categories of offense—drug, alcohol, property, and “destruction.” To test whether these observed declines are more than just age, Masenkoff and Rose compare the decline among parents to the risk of arrest at the same time among future parents, who act effectively as a control group. The results are quite stark: having a child reduces mothers’ risk of arrest by about 50% and reduces fathers’ risk about 20% (although risk for domestic violence goes up significantly among men following birth).
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