Crime, unemployment, and social, structures of accumulation: An inquiry into historical contingency

Susan M. Carlson, Raymond J. Michalowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


This article examines whether prior inconsistency in findings about the impact of unemployment on crime is the result of historical contingency caused by changes in the social structures of accumulation (SSAs) associated with the development of twentieth-century U.S. capitalism. We explore this question by comparing the relationship between official measures of unemployment and the crimes of burglary, robbery, assault, and homicide during four phases of recent U.S. economic development identified by SSA theorists: economic exploration from 1933 to 1947, economic consolidation from 1948 to 1966, economic decay from 1967 to 1979, and a new period of exploration from 1980 to 1992. We propose that the unemployment-crime (U-C) relationship is shaped not merely by the fact of unemployment, but rather by its social meaning within developmental stages of social structures of accumulation. Time-series analysis of the U-C relationship within each SSA stage from 1933 to 1992 supports our hypothesis that periods of structural unemployment will be characterized by a stronger U-C relationship than those in which unemployment is primarily frictional. We then validate the periodization of shifts in the U-C relationship suggested by SSA theory by applying time-varying parameter analysis to the entire series from 1933 to 1992. On the basis of these findings we conclude that crime control policies and future research into the relationship between unemployment and crime should take into consideration the historically contingent nature of the U-C relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-241
Number of pages33
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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