Monday, August 16, 2010

The Irish and America's Law and Order Problem

Immigration: America's nineteenth century "law and order problem"?

New NBER Working Paper No. 16266
Howard Bodenhorn, Carolyn M. Moehling, Anne Morrison Piehl
Issued in August 2010

Past studies of the empirical relationship between immigration and crime during the first major wave of immigration have focused on violent crime in cities and have relied on data with serious limitations regarding nativity information. We analyze administrative data from Pennsylvania prisons, with high quality information on nativity and demographic characteristics. The latter allow us to construct incarceration rates for detailed population groups using U.S. Census data. The raw gap in incarceration rates for the foreign and native born is large, in accord with the extremely high concern at the time about immigrant criminality. But adjusting for age and gender greatly narrows that observed gap. Particularly striking are the urban/rural differences. Immigrants were concentrated in large cities where reported crime rates were higher. However, within rural counties, the foreign born had much higher incarceration rates than the native born. The interaction of nativity with urban residence explains much of the observed aggregate differentials in incarceration rates. Finally, we find that the foreign born, especially the Irish, consistently have higher incarceration rates for violent crimes, but from 1850 to 1860 the natives largely closed the gap with the foreign born for property offenses.


Kevin Denny said...

Living in the US one becomes quickly aware of the popular associations between the Irish and drink/rowdiness witness, for example, the St Patricks Day parade scene in The Simpsons. Fortunately most Americans are not aware where the original "Donnybrook" (a synonym for a melée) was.

Mark McG said...

Some time ago we conducted a rigorous scientific analysis examining how the ancestors of Geary researchers got on in the states in the 1800s using the US census (the IPUMS site is a fantastic resource). I won’t embarrass anyone, but suffice it to say that some families did better than others. Can’t remember how the Dennys did.

Martin Ryan said...


A few weeks ago there was an article in the Irish Times with a headline that painted a very disappointing picture of how Americans view Irish student drinking behaviour:

As someone who has done a JI summer-visit to the States (spent working in Chuck Feeney's duty free empire in Chicago Airport), I dread to think that a few bad eggs could be ruining things for future J1-visitors. Hopefully, as the newspaper story alludes, it was just a few bad eggs.

Kevin Denny said...

Well if my ancestors founded the Dennys chain of restaurants thats shame enough. Incidentally "Hooligan" was an Irish surname but took on a meaning of its own (the events may have occurred in Canada or the US).

Enda Hargaden said...

I moved to America less than two weeks ago. I have learned that when your new classmates suggest it might be a good idea to buy a pitcher, they don't mean one each.

Liam Delaney said...

yes - this is related to the experience of being asked to go for a beer and realising that this does actually mean one beer.