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How to model a rational choice theory of criminal action? Subjective expected utilities, norms, and interactions.
Unformatted Document Text:  How to model a rational choice theory of criminal action? Subjective expected utilities, norms, and interactions. This version: 16.1.07 Guido Mehlkop Peter Graeff Dresden University of Technology, Germany Keywords: Rational Choice, Crime, Norms, Quantitative Methodology Abstract With reference to the classic modelling of criminal behaviour in Rational Choice Theory (e.g. Becker 1968), this paper presents an extended Subjective Ex­ pected Utility model for the explanation of criminality that is more in line with the re­ quirements of theorizing and empirical testing than former approaches. In our model, the decision of an actor is influenced by the expected utility of the crime and the norms which prohibit the delinquent action. It is also suggested that there is an inter­ action between utility and norms which reflect different pattern of decision making that lead to different probabilities for the occurrence of crimes. The relevance of the model is shown by using survey data from Germany. By applying a new technique to uncover interaction effects in nonlinear models, different decision pattern are re­ vealed. On the one hand, it is likely that norms restrict criminal behaviour by sup­ pressing cost­benefit calculations. On the other hand, it is also possible that the influ­ ence of norms is absorbed by cost­benefit calculations. Introduction Gary S. Becker’s Econom ic Theory of Crim e can be seen as the most prom­ inent and influential work on the Rational Choice Theories of crime (see also McKen­ zie and Tullock 1984; Opp 1989; McCarthy 2002). According to Becker (1968), criminality is the consequence of rational actors’ decisions that maximize their bene­ 1

Authors: Mehlkop, Guido. and Graeff, Peter.
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How to model a rational choice theory of criminal action?
Subjective expected utilities, norms, and interactions.
This version: 16.1.07
Guido Mehlkop
Peter Graeff
Dresden University of Technology, Germany
Keywords: Rational Choice, Crime, Norms, Quantitative Methodology
Abstract
With reference to the classic modelling of criminal behaviour in Rational
Choice Theory (e.g. Becker 1968), this paper presents an extended Subjective Ex­
pected Utility model for the explanation of criminality that is more in line with the re­
quirements of theorizing and empirical testing than former approaches. In our model,
the decision of an actor is influenced by the expected utility of the crime and the
norms which prohibit the delinquent action. It is also suggested that there is an inter­
action between utility and norms which reflect different pattern of decision making
that lead to different probabilities for the occurrence of crimes. The relevance of the
model is shown by using survey data from Germany. By applying a new technique to
uncover interaction effects in nonlinear models, different decision pattern are re­
vealed. On the one hand, it is likely that norms restrict criminal behaviour by sup­
pressing cost­benefit calculations. On the other hand, it is also possible that the influ­
ence of norms is absorbed by cost­benefit calculations.
Introduction
Gary S. Becker’s Econom ic Theory of Crim e can be seen as the most prom­
inent and influential work on the Rational Choice Theories of crime (see also McKen­
zie and Tullock 1984; Opp 1989; McCarthy 2002). According to Becker (1968),
criminality is the consequence of rational actors’ decisions that maximize their bene­
1


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