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Economic Development and the Demographics of Criminals in Victorian England

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We use a data set consisting of felony trials in London from 1835 to 1913 to analyze changing demographic patterns in the commission of crimes. We find that the average age of offenders in London increased substantially more than can be explained through increases in longevity or jurisdictional changes. Moreover, this increase is larger for crimes committed for economic gain than for crimes of violence. We build a model to explain the increase in the number of older offenders. As industrialization proceeded, older workers increasingly found their human capital unsuitable to the technology level, which forced some into crime. We then complement this time-series analysis with cross-sectional data from England and Wales from 1870, 1883, and 1910. In the cross sections, areas with higher rates of urbanization and industrialization had higher average ages of criminals and disproportionately more criminals from medium-skilled, artisan occupations.

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