Economists: Criminals Are Short, Fat

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As was recently reported in The New York Times, a number of economists have been drawing links between a person's physical attributes--such as height, weight, and attractiveness--and the likelihood that they'll commit crimes. People who are shorter than average, or heavier, or less likely to be considered good-looking, tend to spend more time in jail, according to various findings. Bloggers aren't sure what's odder--these conclusions, or the way the Times doesn't interrogate them more.

  • This Is a Little More Scientific Than It Sounds  The Times piece points out that a number of subtly interrelated factors make this a murky question:
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 "alternative labor market." If individuals with certain physical attributes are disadvantaged in the labor force, they may find crime more attractive, he said.
  • You Might Be Missing a Few Links  At PrawfsBlawg, Bill Araiza sees a complicated picture. "At first glance, I can't help but wonder what in the world these researchers are thinking. The dynamics leading from short stature or obesity seem obvious enough: childhood teasing, non- or lesser participation in sports and other self-esteem building activities, and a general sense of lesser desirability all lead to the inculcation of attitudes that lead to conduct that leads to bad outcomes. Or, simply enough, stature and weight turn on childhood nutrition, which is significant in itself but may also be a marker for how well the child is being cared for more generally ... Ultimately, I think what's most interesting to me is the rather casual way in which articles like the one in the Times mention these claims."
  • Adjust Social Attitudes First  At Shakesville, Melissa McEwan rolls her eyes at the idea that being overweight is itself a surefire criminal marker. "Sure, because if there is a correlation between fat and criminality, it's definitely not the lifetime of being ostracized, bullied, ignored, and/or denied equal pay and opportunities that underlies the elevated potential for a fat person to commit crime, but the fat itself. So we should definitely focus on eradicating fat, rather than prejudice."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.