Why English youths are more violent than Swedish youths

mylifeincrimeOne article in particular from the latest issue of European Journal of Criminology (Vol. 5, No. 3) caught my eye. Per-Olof H. Wikström and Robert Svensson report findings of a study to uncover why English youths are more violent than Swedish youths. At first glance it seems as if Wikstrom and Svensson are engaged in a circular argument:

… we use data from the English Peterborough Youth Study and the Swedish Eskilstuna Youth Study. The findings show that in both cities (1) young people’s self-reported violent behaviour is predicted by crime propensity and lifestyle, and their interaction, and (2) a substantial proportion (40 percent) of the difference in the level of violence vanishes when taking into account national differences in young people’s crime propensity and lifestyles. We conclude that the findings support the notion that one major cause of the difference in the level of violence among young people in England and Sweden is that more young people in England have a higher crime propensity and are living criminogenic lifestyles than in Sweden [from the abstract].

In other words, it looks as if they’re arguing that youths in England are criminals because they live a criminal lifestyle (a bit like this study reported in Improbable Research). In fact, it’s rather more interesting than that.

Here’s the theoretical framework Wikstrom and Svensson use to explore the data:

Two central ideas in criminology are that crime involvement is a consequence of (1) individual crime propensity and (2) criminogenic features of the environments to which an individual is exposed… One recent theory that takes into account the role of the individual–environment interaction in the explanation of crime is the situational action theory of crime causation … The cornerstone of the situational action theory is the assertion that human actions (including acts of crime and violence) are an outcome of how individuals perceive their ‘action alternatives’ and make their choices as a result of the interaction between their individual characteristics and experiences (propensities) and the features of the behaviour setting in which they take part (environmental inducements) [p.311].

Wikstrom and Svensson’s analysis indicates that not only are there more youths with higher levels of crime propensity in Peterborough compared to Eskilstuna but they also have lifestyles that are more ‘criminogenic’, i.e., they do things that put them into risky settings, which are more likely to prompt or facilitate criminal behaviour. Interesting stuff.


Other articles in this issue include:

  • The Greek Connection(s): The Social Organization of the Cigarette-Smuggling Business in Greece – Georgios A. Antonopoulos
  • How Serious Is the Problem of Item Nonresponse in Delinquency Scales and Aetiological Variables?: A Cross-National Inquiry into Two Classroom PAPI
  • Self-Report Studies in Antwerp and Halmstad – Lieven Pauwels and Robert Svensson
  • Self-Control in Global Perspective: An Empirical Assessment of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s General Theory Within and Across 32 National Settings – Cesar J. Rebellon, Murray A. Straus, and Rose Medeiros
  • Reassessing the Fear of Crime – Emily Gray, Jonathan Jackson, and Stephen Farrall

Photo credit: Marxchivist, Creative Commons License