Built for sin

Photo by Flickr user G√¨pics. Click for sourceThere’s a fascinating short article in The New York Times about physical attributes and the chance of ending up becoming a criminal or ending up in the clink.

Linking physical traits to criminality may sound like a throwback to the biological determinism advocated by 19th-century social Darwinists who believed that there was a genetic predisposition for wrongdoing. Practitioners are quick to distance themselves from such ideas.

Mr. Price, for example, argues that crime can be viewed, at least partly, as an ‚Äúalternative labor market.‚Äù If individuals with certain physical attributes are disadvantaged in the labor force, they may find crime more attractive, he said…

A link between a physical attribute and salary, or crime, does not necessarily mean cause and effect. Mr. Mocan pointed out that we do not know why someone who is overweight, unattractive or short is at a disadvantage in the labor market or more likely to commit a crime. It could be employer discrimination, customer preference or that the physical attribute may make the worker less productive. If a job involves carrying heavy loads, for instance, brawn would be an advantage.

That is what both Howard Bodenhorn, an economist at Clemson University, and Mr. Price concluded from 19th-century prison records. In that era increased body weight was associated with a lower risk of crime. In the 21st century, though, in which service jobs are much more common, Mr. Price found that being overweight was linked to a higher risk of crime.

The whole article is worth reading in full as it has lots of great snippets about how attractiveness is related to criminal activity and why Americans are getting shorter.

Link to NYT on ‘For Crime, Is Anatomy Destiny?’ (via @crime_economist)

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