Discussion paper

DP13014 Crime, Broken Families, and Punishment

We develop a two-period overlapping generations model in which both the structure of the family and the decision to commit crime are endogenous and a culture of honesty is transmitted intergenerationally by families and peers. Having a father at home might be crucial to prevent susceptible boys from becoming criminals, as this facilitates the transmission of the honesty trait against criminal behavior. By "destroying" biparental families and putting fathers in prison, we show that more intense crime repression can backfire because it increases the possibility that criminals' sons become criminals themselves. Consistent with sociological disorganization theories of crime, the model also explains the emergence and persistence of urban ghettos characterized by a large proportion of broken families and high crime rates. This is because for children who come from these broken families, negative community experiences (peer effects) further encourage their criminal participation. Finally, we discuss the efficiency of location and family policies on long-term crime rates.


Verdier, T and Y Zenou (2018), ‘DP13014 Crime, Broken Families, and Punishment‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 13014. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp13014