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Big Cities Breed More Partners in Crime

A new study sheds light on why bigger cities tend to generate so much more crime than smaller cities: It’s easier for criminals to find collaborators.

“In a big city, you have the potential to meet more distinct people each day,” said senior author Dr. Daniel Abrams of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. “You’re more likely to find an appropriate partner to start a business or invent something. But perhaps you’re also more likely to find the partner you need to commit a burglary.”

Abrams is an associate professor of engineering sciences and applied mathematics in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. He conducted the study with first author Dr. Vicky Chuqiao Yang, a postdoctoral fellow at the Santa Fe Institute and a former Ph.D. student in Abrams’ lab.

As cities grow, crime grows even faster. And certain types of crime such as robbery, car theft and murder exponentially outpace the population.

“If you double the size of a city, you don’t just double the amount of crime,” Abrams said. “You actually more than double it.”

To find out why, the team collaborated with Northwestern sociology professor Dr. Andrew Papachristos, who studies social networks in urban neighborhoods. The researchers developed a new mathematical model that predicted the number of crimes as a function of social interactions.

Using data from the FBI, Chicago Police Department and the National Incident-Based Reporting System, the team was specifically interested in co-arrest records — records in which multiple people were arrested for the same crime — across seven categories: robbery, motor vehicle theft, murder, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft and rape.

Of these categories, only rape grew linearly, at roughly the same pace as a city’s population. The other crimes are more “social” in nature and often require a team effort.

Although this project focuses on crime data, the researchers stress that their model also applies to positive outcomes. For example, big cities also produce more patents, more small businesses and more income per resident.

“The world is becoming very quickly urbanized,” Abrams said. “There is a huge mass migration to cities from rural areas. It’s important to understand what good and bad effects come with that. In order to promote the good side and reduce crime, we have to understand why it occurs.”

The study was published in the journal Physical Review E.

Source: Northwestern University


Big Cities Breed More Partners in Crime

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). Big Cities Breed More Partners in Crime. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 21 Sep 2019 (Originally: 21 Sep 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 21 Sep 2019
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