A large scale study in the US has found marriage and childbirth to be ‘turning points’ which trigger sharp declines in criminal offending and drug use among both men and women.
Researchers matched arrest records from the Washington Courts with birth certificates, marriage records, and divorce indexes in the state. Crimes involved in the study ranged from drug offences through to murder.
The study found that criminal offending of women decreased by 50% upon falling pregnant. The decline in offending was most significant in drug, alcohol and economic offences. Though criminal activity of mothers tended to increase again following the birth of a child, they continued to offend at significantly lower levels than before falling pregnant. Researchers found that conception itself was the pivotal moment, rather than merely a decision to try and fall pregnant. The researchers also observed that childbirth was ‘transformative’ for mothers, and the drop in criminal offending was consistent with ‘forward looking behaviour’.
Criminal offending of expectant fathers declined by 25% at the onset of pregnancy. Most notably, there were large drops in drug offending of first time fathers. Men also continue to offend at lower levels following the birth of the child.
While there was some decline in offending around the birth of a second child, the drop was not as dramatic. The study found that the most significant cessation of offending occurred at the birth of the first child. Criminal offending of fathers was also less affected at the time of a second birth, declining only 10% compared to almost 30% at the conception of their first born.
Marriage marked a 50% decline in offending for both men and women, with the most notable drop in drug and economic crimes.
Ultimately, the study proposes that family formation events such as marriage and pregnancy are important turning points, which spur drastic life improvements, strengthening social bonds and leading to a sharp decline in criminal offending for both men and women.