Andrew Barr, Texas A&M University
"Fighting Crime in the Cradle: The Effects of Early Childhood Food Stamp Access"
Abstract: Despite the extraordinary social costs of crime, relatively little is known about the early life determinates of later criminal behavior.
We explore the effect of access to nutritional assistance in early childhood. Using variation in the rollout of the Food Stamp Program (FSP) in the 1960s and 70s, combined with criminal conviction data from North Carolina, we find that FSP availability in early childhood leads to large reductions in later criminal behavior.
Each additional year of FSP availability in early childhood reduces the likelihood of a criminal conviction in adulthood by 3-4 percent. FSP availability has particularly strong effects on the most costly crime types for society: violent and felony convictions. These effects are substantially larger for non-whites, consistent with the higher levels of FSP participation in this population. Analogous estimates derived from the FBIs Uniform Crime Report data suggest similar reductions in arrests for violent crime. These results reveal an important additional benefit of the FSP and point to the existence of a previously unknown causal link between childhood nutrition and later criminal behavior. Even under conservative assumptions, the discounted social benefits from the FSP’s later crime reduction exceed the costs of the program over this time period.