Lead Update: White Folks and Alabama Prisoners

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


It’s been…weeks, at least, since I’ve mentioned lead and crime, and today I got two nice little anecdotes at once. The first is from lead researcher extraordinaire Rick Nevin, who directs our attention to this chart:

As predicted by the lead-crime theory, the prison population of younger cohorts (15-25) has dropped the most. The 26-30 cohort is flat, and the older cohorts are making up a bigger proportion of the total prison population. Why? Because everyone under 30 grew up in a fairly lead-free environment, so they’re less likely to commit serious crimes than similar cohorts in the past. 35-year-olds grew up at the tail end of the lead era, and are still moderately crime prone. Older cohorts were heavily lead poisoned as kids, and they’ve remained more crime prone even as they’ve grown older.

If you have a good memory, you may also recall a post I wrote four years ago explaining that lead poisoning affected blacks and Hispanics more than whites because they were more likely to grow up in dense urban environments with a lot of auto exhaust. Because of this, during the great crime wave of the 60s and 70s, their crime rates went up faster than white crime rates. The flip side of this is that with lead mostly gone, their crime rates are dropping faster than they are for whites. We can see this in the declining share of the jail population made up by blacks and Hispanics. Keith Humphreys shows us the mirror image of this, the rising share of the jail population made up by whites:

The lead hypothesis predicts that young cohorts are less crime prone than older cohorts, so their share of the jail and prison population should decline. It predicts that black crime rates will drop faster than white crime rates. And it also predicts that small-city crime rates will drop faster than big-city crime rates. All of these things have turned out to be true.

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

We’re falling behind our online fundraising goals and we can’t sustain coming up short on donations month after month. Perhaps you’ve heard? It is impossibly hard in the news business right now, with layoffs intensifying and fancy new startups and funding going kaput.

The crisis facing journalism and democracy isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither is Mother Jones, our readers, or our unique way of doing in-depth reporting that exists to bring about change.

Which is exactly why, despite the challenges we face, we just took a big gulp and joined forces with The Center for Investigative Reporting, a team of ace journalists who create the amazing podcast and public radio show Reveal.

If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery said it well to our team recently, and that team 100 percent includes readers like you who make it all possible: “This is a year to prove that we can pull off this merger, grow our audiences and impact, attract more funding and keep growing. More broadly, it’s a year when the very future of both journalism and democracy is on the line. We have to go for every important story, every reader/listener/viewer, and leave it all on the field. I’m very proud of all the hard work that’s gotten us to this moment, and confident that we can meet it.”

Let’s do this. If you can right now, please support Mother Jones and investigative journalism with an urgently needed donation today.

payment methods

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

We’re falling behind our online fundraising goals and we can’t sustain coming up short on donations month after month. Perhaps you’ve heard? It is impossibly hard in the news business right now, with layoffs intensifying and fancy new startups and funding going kaput.

The crisis facing journalism and democracy isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither is Mother Jones, our readers, or our unique way of doing in-depth reporting that exists to bring about change.

Which is exactly why, despite the challenges we face, we just took a big gulp and joined forces with The Center for Investigative Reporting, a team of ace journalists who create the amazing podcast and public radio show Reveal.

If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery said it well to our team recently, and that team 100 percent includes readers like you who make it all possible: “This is a year to prove that we can pull off this merger, grow our audiences and impact, attract more funding and keep growing. More broadly, it’s a year when the very future of both journalism and democracy is on the line. We have to go for every important story, every reader/listener/viewer, and leave it all on the field. I’m very proud of all the hard work that’s gotten us to this moment, and confident that we can meet it.”

Let’s do this. If you can right now, please support Mother Jones and investigative journalism with an urgently needed donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate