The Perception of Small Crime

S. Douhou, J.R. Magnus, A.H.O. van Soest

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Abstract

Violations of social norms can be costly to society and they are, in the case of large crimes, followed by prosecution. Minor misbehaviors — small crimes — do not usually result in legal proceedings. Although the economic consequences of a single small crime can be low, such crimes generate substantial losses in the aggregate. In this paper we measure perceptions of incorrect behavior or ‘small crime’, based on a questionnaire administered to a large representative sample from the Dutch population. In the questionnaire we ask the respondents to rate the severity and justifiability of a number of small crimes. We present short questions that only state the nature of the small crime, as well as vignette questions, describing in detail the fictitious person committing the small crime and other factors related to the circumstances in which the small crime is committed. We find that the perceived severity of small crimes varies systematically with characteristics of the respondent as well as of the person committing the crime. Small crimes are considered less serious if committed by someone with lower income. Also, the association between respondent characteristics and perceived seriousness changes if the respondents are given more information about the offender and the circumstances of the offense.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationTilburg
PublisherEconometrics
Number of pages32
Volume2010-115
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Publication series

NameCentER Discussion Paper
Volume2010-115

Keywords

  • Crime seriousness
  • Social norms
  • Vignettes

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