Delinquency Rates as Sources of Ecological Change

  • Robert J. BursikJr.
Part of the Research in Criminology book series (RESEARCH CRIM.)


Ecological studies of local community rates of crime and delinquency have formed one of the important ongoing traditions of empirical criminology. One of the most significant theoretical advances in the interpretation of such spatial distributions was made by Shaw and McKay (1931, 1942) when they argued that neighborhood differentials in delinquency rates could only be fully understood when considered within the context of broader urban dynamics. However, as Kornhauser (1978, pg 118) has noted, they never explicitly formulated the causal linkages that connected such processes of urban growth with delinquency but only emphasized the mutuality of the interrelationships. Likewise, most of the ecological research that has followed in the tradition of Shaw and McKay (such as Bordua, 1958–59; Chilton, 1964; Chilton & Dussich, 1974; Gordon, 1967, Lander, 1954) has concentrated primarily on estimating the levels of association between crime and/or delinquncy rates and various sociodemographic indicators of community composition without evaluating a specific causal framework.


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  1. 1.
    Typical interpretations noted by Watts and Watts (1981;pp. 425–426) include “a positive cost/benefit, frustration, lack of allegiance to a social contract or the system, lack of absorption into society or, perhaps, a culture of poverty.”Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    It should also be noted that problems of the “ecological fallacy” may also arise in such a generalization, for one would be trying to infer processes found in one type of aggregation from those found in another.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    We must emphasize that although similar structures appear in these cities, it is premature to assume that they reflect stable, ongoing ecological patterns associated with delinquency. See the argument of Bursik (1984).Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1986

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  • Robert J. BursikJr.

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