Baby Boomers and the crime rate

By permission from Wikipedia article "Crime in the United States". The Y-axis is per 100,000 population, which is the crime rate.

The statistics above are rather interesting statistics. Despite the fact that they come from the Wikipedia, I have gone to the website of the FBI and confirmed some of the figures in order to ensure that they are graphed correctly. Most baby boomers have grown up with a crime rate that increased from the time they were around 10 years old (plus or minus, mostly plus) to the time that they were in their mid 40’s (plus or minus, mostly plus).

During that time, the Leave It To Beaver world that they remembered disappeared. Crime rates skyrocketed, and we became a population no longer willing to have our children walk to the neighborhood park to meet their friends and play all day. Rather, organized team sports became one of the ways that we ensured the safety of our children. Then, mysteriously, in the mid 1990’s, the crime rate began to fall. While the crime rate is not quite down to the levels of 1960, if trends continue they will drop to those rates again within another 10 years. It will take longer than that for society to begin to return to patterns of living that we remember as children.

It is interesting to note that almost no correlation has been found between the rising and then falling crime rates. States which severely toughened their criminal penalties and states that did not had equally increased, then equally decreased crime rates. States which were concealed weapon friendly and states which were not had essentially the same rates of violent crime, home invasions, and rape, both going up and going down. In other words, it does not appear that either jurisprudence or penology had much to do with the rise and then the fall of the crime rate.

In fact, there is really only one correlation that can be drawn, and that is the baby boomer generation. The crime rate went up as the baby boomers reached their adult years and began to go down as the baby boomers reached their senior years. There have already been some preliminary studies done that show that the generations that follow the baby boomers already show a lower crime rate than the baby boomers. In fact, after every other factor has been eliminated but the age of the baby boomers, the only explanation left is that the baby boomers, as a generation, are much more willing to disobey the law.

In one way that is not fully surprising. The “ME” generation followed the Greatest Generation. Raised on Benjamin Spock, they learned that their every wish should be fulfilled. As a result, they were the generation that began to see what they wanted as being the most important thing, and anything that blocked what they wanted as being somehow not right. It is no wonder that the crime statistics began to skyrocket.

The post-9/11 generation, those who were 10-20 at the time of the Towers have experienced constant war and threats. Their job market has been awful, their economic prospects dim. Interestingly enough, their crime rate has been much closer to the 1960 crime rate. One would think that with the economic pressure that they would be more tempted to commit chicanery, but they have not. Like their grandparents and great-grandparents, they have come of age at a difficult time and are rising to the occasion.

Frankly, looking at the statistics above, and looking at what the baby boomers have done with the economy that was handed to them by their parents and grand-parents, maybe it is just as well that we are passing on. I suspect that history will not deal with us kindly at all, particularly our children and grandchildren who will have to bear the burden of us until we are gone.


  1. says

    Very interesting. I have long been fascinated with generational characteristics and have been mulling over a blog post myself on this issue as we look at the hole we’re in in this country and who’s been in charge.

    As a Gen-Xer who is seeing my own friends raise their children differently from how they were raised, I am interested to see where this is going to end up.

    • says

      It depends on what happens in the next few years. When the crime rate began to rise, the Baby Boomers were generally taking society apart in a liberal direction. Oddly enough, now the Baby Boomers are taking society apart in a conservative direction. Whether in the 1960’s and 1970’s or now the Baby Boomers are convinced that they know what this country must do and that they are the hope for the future of this country. They are as radical today as back then but have simply switched from liberal radical to conservative radical.

      They were against the Viet Nam War before they were for the Iraq War. It is a sad commentary about Baby Boomers.

      • says

        Fr., you just articulated what I have been trying to figure out. They are a restless and entitled group. I fear our republic may not survive them.

      • Josh in FW says

        What are a couple of examples of conservative radical? My views put me in the moderate middle here in Texas, but the same views put me on the far Right on the two coasts.

  2. Alix Hall says

    Most of the young people I grew up with (and I am in my mid-60’s) weren’t spoiled or catered to as I remember–of course, we are talking about military families.

    Of course, you are talking about large groups and smaller subsets don’t count in the big picture.

    My children (who are 30, 28 and 23) who were brought up with the same sense of duty, honor and country that I was brought up with (the fact that if you are given much then you have an obligation to give back–to work hard-to help those less fortunate -etc) and often tell me that THEIR generation does not seem to have the work ethic, the sense of giving back to their community, or the sense of loyalty to employer, friends, etc. that they were brought up to have. All of my children are much beloved by their employers because they give a honest days work for an honest days pay, do extra and above and don’t sit around when there is something to be done even if it is techinically “NOT MY JOB.” Maybe the younger folks have less crime because they do less of everything…..(just a thought )

    • says

      Ahh, the younger folk are carrying out the wars started by the older folk. My daughter was a 15 year old on 9/11. Like her, many of them are now unemployed by the “grateful” nation that “supports and honors” its military. Honor and commitment is a two way street.

      The NOT MY JOB syndrome can have two causes, one legitimate and one not legitimate. Hiring someone does not give an employer the right to do whatever one wants with the employee. A woman hired as a professional need not be the coffee maker for the company. It would be legitimate for that type of employee to say NOT MY JOB. Also legitimate is an employee who refuses to do a job for which he/she was not trained and/or puts the employee in a position for which they have no training but could lead to their firing if they do not perform the job correctly. A few months ago I politely declined to do a medical task on the grounds that I had not been trained yet for that task. The supervisor stopped, looked at me, then realized that I was correct and that a patient could be put in danger if I did not perform the task correctly. So, she backtracked, did the task, and then trained me on it.

      The not-legitimate excuse would be people like a stock clerk whose job it is to stock children’s toys but is asked to help out in the TV department. That is, if one works in that general area but refuses to do a specific task because they do not normally do it, then that would probably be an illegitimate use of NOT MY JOB.

  3. says

    I’m having a difficult time following the argument leading to the conclusion that Baby Boomers caused the rise in crime indicated on the graph. Brings to mind, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” We could graph the number of American men who died due to violence between 1940-1945 and conclude that the Greatest Generation caused the leap in violent deaths. Our logic would be faulty. The ONLY conclusion that can be drawn from this graph is that crime rose between 1960 and the early 1990s.

  4. says

    Fr. Ernesto,

    As a lifelong sports fan – especially baseball – I have observed that fan behavior has paralleled this chart, and have maintained that there was a peak in rowdiness coming sometine in the late 80’s or early 80’s. I guess there was something to that observation after all.

  5. Veronica says

    I am very curious. The crime of child abuse really started drawing national attention in the 70s. As a survivor of child abuse I distinctly remember listening to the radio every morning before school and watching TV and there were sooo many stories of parents who were finally being imprisoned for beating their children to death. I always listened intently because as a battered child myself I liked hearing when parents were thrown in jail for their crimes (sad I know). My point, it seems to me it was Baby Boomers who were committing these beatings and murders. Do we know who was / is the most abusive generation where children are concerned? I feel like the answer should be the Boomers, but because the national spotlight was cast upon this horrible crime half-way through their parenting years, added to that the many many instances that still went unreported because at that time people feared reporting their neighbors, I feel an accurate count of Baby Boomer Child Abusers will never be known.

    • says

      An accurate count will never be fully known for anything before the 1970’s to 1980’s. You see, there were many behaviors that were NOT considered child abuse, thus they would have never been counted or recorded. For instance, read in particular the Charles Dickens novels from the 19th century. Much of what he documents in books like Oliver Twist, etc., would count as child abuse today, but was considered acceptable behavior back then. In the 19th century, for instance, hanging a pickpocket as young as 11 was considered simply punishing a criminal, not child abuse.

      The same is true during the 1950’s. Many baby boomers were abused by today’s definitions of abuse. Thus, it is not surprising that they turned out to be abusers themselves. As you probably know, abuse follows abuse for generation after generation.

      So, I do not have a good answer. But, it is a good thing that our definitions of child abuse were clarified in the 1970’s and laws were finally approved to begin to deal with the various problems.

  6. muraiki says

    An economist found that in every country he studied, crime rates follow lead contamination rates (due to the introduction and eventual banning of leaded gasoline).

    “In a 2000 paper (PDF) he concluded that if you add a lag time of 23 years, lead emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.”

    Unfortunately this research has been mostly ignored, possibly because it is the work of an economist and not a criminologist. That being said, he’s even compared maps of neighborhood-level lead contamination rates with crime maps, and they fit perfectly.

    You can read about it here:

  7. tina says

    My response would be that there were more criminals just like their were more teachers, lawyers, politicians, mothers, etc. There was just more people in the age bracket that happens to commit crime- period. A law of demographics. If you are familiar with the penal system criminals are less likely to repeat their crimes the longer they are incarcerated… in a sense they mellow with age. This fact is why people who reside in max security tend to have less problems as that population of the criminal is older (we might expect the reverse since that population tends to commit more serious offences). We just happened to have a gluttony of criminals when the largest numbers of young adults/adults hit our society, and gradually they got older. Now if you’re looking at white-colour crime my bet would be they would hold on a little longer as it generally doesn’t take as much energy!


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