Time Preferences and Criminal Behavior

25 Pages Posted: 24 May 2014

See all articles by David Akerlund

David Akerlund

Stockholm University

Bart Golsteyn

Maastricht University - Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA); IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Stockholm University - Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI)

Hans Gronqvist

Stockholm University

Lena Lindahl

Stockholm University - Faculty of Social Sciences

Abstract

One main motive behind lengthy prison terms for serious crime is to deter potential offenders from engaging in crime. Yet, economic theory predicts that the scope for punishment as acting as a deterrent depends on how much individuals discount future events when balancing the immediate utility of the crime and the costs of a potential future punishment. If criminals have short time horizons, then it is hard to imagine punishment acting as a key deterrent. This paper provides the first empirical investigation of the link between time preferences and criminal behavior. Our study is made possible by access to a unique Swedish longitudinal dataset that links individual measures of time preferences collected at age 13 to various crime indicators from administrative registers spanning over 18 years. Our results show that high discount rates significantly predict criminal involvement. The magnitude of the relationship is substantial and corresponds to roughly one third of the association between intelligence and crime. Although high discount rates significantly predict the onset of criminal involvement, it is less strongly correlated with crime at the intensive margin. The link is more pronounced for property crime and among males with low intelligence. We also find that part of the association can be explained by high discount rates being associated with lower human capital accumulation.

Keywords: time discounting, impatience, intertemporal choice, crime

JEL Classification: K4, D03, D90

Suggested Citation

Akerlund, David and Golsteyn, Bart and Gronqvist, Hans and Lindahl, Lena, Time Preferences and Criminal Behavior. IZA Discussion Paper No. 8168. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2441464

David Akerlund (Contact Author)

Stockholm University ( email )

Universitetsvägen 10
Stockholm, Stockholm SE-106 91
Sweden

Bart Golsteyn

Maastricht University - Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, MD6200
Netherlands

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Stockholm University - Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI) ( email )

Kyrkgatan 43B
SE-106 91 Stockholm
Sweden

Hans Gronqvist

Stockholm University ( email )

Universitetsvägen 10
Stockholm, Stockholm SE-106 91
Sweden

Lena Lindahl

Stockholm University - Faculty of Social Sciences ( email )

SE-106 91 Stockholm
Sweden

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