There is no doubt that crime, particularly violent crime, has reduced significantly over the last 30 years in the developed world.
Men are responsible for 86% of all indictable crimes in England and Wales, 88% of crimes against the person, 90% of murders, and 98% of sexual offences (all for the year 2012). Young males commit many more crimes than any other group, so any influence on this group will disproportionately affect crime levels.
Criminal behaviour in young men is partly due to their naturally high levels of testosterone, which causes aggressive, risk taking behaviour across the animal kingdom. Our environment is now full of anti-testosterone pollutants. These chemicals mostly come from medicines (including cancer treatments and the contraceptive pill) that enter our water supply via the sewage system. Some pesticides used in agriculture also act as anti-testosterones. These chemicals are leading to the ‘feminisation’ of male fish and have been linked to falling male fertility in humans. They may also be helping to reduce aggressive, risk taking, criminal behaviour as a welcome effect.
There is also good evidence that lead pollution from leaded petrol causes more violent aggressive behaviour, particularly in men. Decreased lead pollution after the West moved towards unleaded fuel is compounding this positive effect on crime.
Another factor is the increased use of social media, which is keeping young men at home on Facebook and Twitter, rather than meeting in pubs and on the streets. The use of video games by young men has also had a similar effect. This may have contributed to the measurable national reduction in the consumption of crime causing drugs such as alcohol, heroin and crack-cocaine. In Britain, the current generation of 18- to 24-year-olds is a lot less likely to have tried an illegal drug or to drink than those ten years older were at their age, and the same is true in most European countries.
Demographics also play a role in the reduction of crime. There are fewer young people overall than in previous generations and therefore fewer young men.
A recent study has suggested that liberal abortion policies can reduce crime by taking potential criminals out of the population before they are born. A pregnant woman who does not want her child often does so for good reason. She may be poor, uneducated, unmarried, very young, living in chaotic circumstances or addicted to drugs or alcohol. The boys born to mothers with this combination of circumstances are more likely to embark on a life of crime during their testosterone fuelled adolescence . There is a direct correlation between those American states which legalised abortions in 1970s and a subsequent drop in crime rates 15 to 20 years later. Also American states with the highest abortion rates in the 1970s experienced the greatest crime drops in the 1990s, while states with low abortion rates experienced smaller crime drops. Since 1985, states with high abortion rates have experienced a roughly 30 percent drop in crime relative to low-abortion states. By the same reasoning any policies which prevent unplanned pregnancies and teenage pregnancies should also have a demonstrable effect on crime rates 15 to 20 years later.
Other reasons for the reduction in crime is due to better policing and forensics. Better security on homes and cars and CCTV in our streets makes it more likely that a criminal will be caught. The lower value of stealable items also now makes crime relatively uneconomic. All these act as a disincentive to crime and stops many young men becoming criminals in the first place.
The drop in crime is less likely to be due the policy of locking people up in prison for longer. In Britain the prison population doubled between 1993 and 2012. But several countries, including Canada, the Netherlands, Germany and Estonia, have reduced their prison populations without seeing any spike in crime; so too have some American states such as New York, where crime rates have fallen fastest. Prison takes existing criminals off the streets, but in many places, the drop in crime seems to be down to people not becoming criminals in the first place. Between 2007 and 2012 the number of people convicted of an offence for the first time in Britain fell by 44%.
The decline of the traditional nuclear family and growing ethnic diversity has not unleashed the unstoppable crime wave many conservatives predicted. Religion cannot claim to reduce crime either. In recent polls, 65% of British people said they weren’t religious and weekly church attendance in the UK is down to less than 2%. Left-wingers who argued that crime could never be curbed unless inequality was reduced and wealth redistributed must also reassess their dogma. Their prediction that high unemployment and austerity would increase crime is equally wrong.