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Racial stereotypes and robbery

O'Flaherty, Brendan Andrew; Sethi, Rajiv

Robbery is a serious, widespread and sometimes violent crime resulting each year in costs to victims of several billion dollars. Data on the incidence of robbery reveals certain striking racial disparities. African Americans are more likely to be victims, arrestees and prisoners than are members of other demographic groups, and while black-on-white robberies are very common, white-on-black robberies are extremely rare. The disparities for robbery are also much greater than those for other crimes of acquisition. We develop a model of robbery that attempts to address these and other stylized facts. The key insight underlying the model is that robberies are typically interactions between strangers which involve a sequence of rapid decisions with severely limited information. Potential offenders must assess the likelihood of victim resistance, and victims must assess the likelihood that resistance will be met with violence. Racial disparities in the distribution of income can cause such probability assessments to be race-contingent, affecting crime rates as well as rates of resistance and violence. We argue that this model helps account for several empirical regularities that appear puzzling from the perspective of alternative theories of crime.

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Publisher
Department of Economics, Columbia University
Publication Origin
New York
Series
Department of Economics Discussion Papers, 0405-15
Academic Units
Economics

Notes

December 2004

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