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The Neighborhood Context of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Arrest

Demography, Vol. 45, No. 1, February 2008

23 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2007 Last revised: 10 Mar 2008

David Kirk

University of Oxford


This study assesses the role of social context in explaining racial and ethnic disparities in arrest, with a focus on how the distinct neighborhood contexts in which different racial and ethnic groups reside explain variations in criminal outcomes. To do so, I utilize a multilevel, longitudinal research design, combining individual-level data with contextual data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. Findings reveal that black youth face multiple layers of disadvantage relative to other racial and ethnic groups, which work to create differences in arrest. At the family-level, results show that disadvantages in the form of unstable family structures explain much of the disparities in arrest across race and ethnicity. At the neighborhood-level, black youth tend to reside in areas with significantly higher levels of concentrated poverty than other youth, and lower levels of collective efficacy than white youth. Variations in neighborhood tolerance of deviance across groups explain little of the arrest disparities, yet tolerance of deviance does influence the frequency with which a crime ultimately ends in an arrest. Even after accounting for relevant demographic, family, and neighborhood-level predictors, substantial residual differences in arrest between black youth and youth of other racial and ethnic groups remain.

Keywords: Arrest, Racial/Ethnic Disparities, Decomposition, Neighborhood Effects

Suggested Citation

Kirk, David, The Neighborhood Context of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Arrest. Demography, Vol. 45, No. 1, February 2008. Available at SSRN:

David Kirk (Contact Author)

University of Oxford ( email )

Oxford, OX1 3UQ
United Kingdom

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