Educational mobility and crime


Dennison, Christopher R. (2017). Educational mobility and crime.


A central question in criminology is the degree to which adult transitions are sources of stability or change throughout the life course. Transitions in the form of marriage and employment are said to represent turning points for those most prone for a life course of persistent offending, as such experiences 'knife off' a criminal past. Few studies, however, have considered college completion as an adult transition capable of redirecting one's criminal trajectory. Moreover, research largely assumes that any attainment represents a positive turning point, but whether transitions like educational attainment really are positive depends on how these resources compare to prior generations, such as those of one's parents. The study of social mobility broadens our understanding of socioeconomic attainments by encompassing continuity and change within the life course, as certain achievements may be indicative of stability while others may represent a change – either positive or negative. For instance, obtaining a high school diploma may symbolize a positive turning point or those who grew up in poverty, while similar achievements for those from a higher social class may reflect a loss in social status if it is not followed by further educational attainment. Drawing on theories of social mobility, strain, and relative deprivation, I analyze the relationship between educational mobility and crime using data from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). First, I examine the relationship between educational mobility (i.e., one's own achieved education in relation to parents' attainment) and various types of crime (i.e., instrumental crime, violent crime, and illegal drug use). Next, I investigate how gender and race /ethnicity moderate the association between educational mobility and crime. Finally, I assess the concern of selection into educational mobility pathways via propensity score analyses, with the purpose of accounting for the confounding bias that may explain the alleged educational mobility and crime association. Results show that upward and downward intergenerational mobility are associated with decreases and increases in instrumental crime, violent crime, and illegal drug use, respectively. Effects are slightly attenuated in size after controlling for occupational and familial transitions in adulthood, as well as financial stressors and social psychological measures. Moreover, downward educational mobility is associated with greater increases in crime for females compared to males, and upward mobility results in greater reductions in crime for blacks and native-born Hispanics. Finally, results show that overall patterns of intergenerational mobility are robust when incorporating a series of propensity score techniques that account for confounding bias. In total, this dissertation contributes to the long speculated socioeconomic status and crime connection by integrating social mobility and education into criminological research as meaningful sources of change in the life course.


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Book Title



Dennison, Christopher R.

Series Author(s)

Swisher, Raymond R.

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Bowling Green State University

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