Crime Statistics: Regular or Unleaded

On Sunday, 8 July 2007, the Washington Post reports that decreasing crime rates may be the result of lowered lead levels.

The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children’s exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

Although presented by the Post as a contrarian view to claims by presidential candidate and former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani that his policies (see “Broken Window Theory”) were the proximate and primary cause of the decline in violent crimes, the data is by itself – stripped of any political intent – intriguing.


As the Post article explains, others have sought similar explanations for the downward trend in violent crime in certain jurisdictions. It seems almost certain that there are many relevant variables. But, it’s noteworthy that from a strictly materialist, cause-and-effect perspective this is yet more compelling data that to seriously address crime, the root causes – environmental, economic, social, as well as individual – must be considered.

A version of Rick Nevin’s study is available online. For additional information about the link between lead exposure and crime see Crime Times. To get information about reducing childhood lead exposure visit the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

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