Why Millennials are getting arrested more than Gen-Xers

In the study, Millennials are more likely to get locked up than other generations before them due to the rise in the targeting of smaller offenses.

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Millennials get blamed for many things. They’ve apparently killed the retail industry, obsess over their phones too much and are disconnected with their managers — and now are getting arrested more than their predecessors despite committing fewer crimes, according to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University.

In the study published in RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, Millennials are more likely to get locked up than other generations before them due to the rise in policing and increased targeting of smaller offenses.


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“The idea that there’s a direct link between committing a crime and having contact with the criminal justice system is essential to public policy, political rhetoric, and criminology, and the assumption is rarely questioned,” said Vesla Weaver, the study’s author.

“However, our study found that there is a loosening relationship between actually committing a crime and being arrested for the Millennial generation, something that was not true for the previous generation, Gen X.”

Researchers examined data collected from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth of more than 8,000 young adults who were asked about self-reported crimes committed and their experiences with the criminal justice system. The study used responses from thousands of people between ages 18 to 23 between 1979 and 1997. Those two groupings were purposely picked due to changes in policing and lesser crimes becoming more prevalent in recent times.

Millennials had contacted police more than their Gen-X predecessors, according to the research, despite the Gen-Xers reporting more offenses. Only 10% of young adults in 1979 were arrested despite over 50% saying they committed at least one crime. A quarter of the same age group in 1997 was arrested while only 15% reported committing at least one crime.

Drug use was not classified as a crime in this study.

Millennials who reported being arrested without committing a crime was significantly higher than those before them. Seventy-percent of the 1997 group reported being arrested without offense, which was far higher than the 18% who reported the same in 1979.

The study also found a rise in black men who were arrested with no offenses: 419% were more likely to be arrested at the start of the 21st century compared to non-offending blacks of the prior generation. There was a 31.5% higher chance black men were arrested compared to white men of the same generation who didn’t report any crimes.

“We have only begun to understand the transformation of criminal justice as it related to actual crime. But we hope to have nudged scholars in relevant fields toward greater recognition of the shifting crime contact link,” the study concludes.


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Kyle Schnitzer|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at kschnitzer@theladders.com.