A pair of economics graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, have taken an interesting look at crime among new parents. And while their study hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet, their findings hint at something interesting, though maybe not entirely unexpected.

Maxim Massenkoff and Evan Rose used a very large dataset to consider crime and found that when women become pregnant, participation in drug use, DUI or property and economic crimes, among others, is cut by 50%. And the level of illegal activity stays down for the three years they examined after a child is born.

For expectant fathers, crime drops as well, though the numbers are smaller.

They looked at married and unmarried individuals and found that the impact is larger for those who are having a child outside of marriage, probably in part because they have much higher levels of offending, Massenkoff told me. “When we look at criminal offending around marriage, it looks like marriage is something you do after you’ve substantially decreased crime,” he said, noting a drop-off over a few years leading up to marrying.

I think it’s likely there’s just something about parenthood — about being responsible for a life that depends on you completely — that changes thinking. And I’d credit the power of love, too.

In their research, findings were true of teens, as well, which is interesting, though it doesn’t counter all the negatives that go with teen pregnancy, like poverty and the impact on future education and more.

Unlike some studies, figuring out what to do with the findings, if they hold up, isn’t clear. It’s not as if a juvenile court judge should order parenthood for a delinquent youth, male or female.

And it’s certainly not to say everything’s rosy when a baby is born. In fact, domestic violence went up a bit right after the birth for fathers, though Massenkoff said that might be a reflection of reporting. The father may be acting like he always did, but the mother’s no longer willing to put up with it when she has a child that relies on her.

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Some effects are very small and there’s pushback on making too much of the research in its raw form. But Lyman Stone, an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told me that in terms of policy, there is a simple conclusion that this research, like other research, bolsters: “Policymakers should prioritize helping young Americans transition to settled family life — for all our sakes.”

The more help we can give families to be stable and strong and committed to each other and to any children — the better off for everyone.

There’s no downside to that wish that I can find. The more help we can give families to be stable and strong and committed to each other and to any children — the better off for everyone. Stone says marriage is key to stable family life and everyone benefits when young people can marry and start strong families, “especially for young adults who may otherwise be at risk of criminality.” He suggests policymakers look for the “needless barriers to marriage and parenthood” and then stop putting them up.

“Currently, federal, state and local governments have explicitly anti-marriage policy postures, frequently penalizing Americans in their taxes and their welfare benefits for getting married. As marriage is the main causal driver of fertility and the transition to marriage is clearly associated with reduced criminality, and childbearing with a further reduction in criminality, it’s reasonable to suggest that policymakers can consider investments in families as not only benefiting those households, but the whole of society,” he wrote in an email.

We need to pay attention to what families need to thrive and not shy away from helping those who struggle — even if for just selfish reasons. When we use proven tools of all types to provide skills and spread knowledge, to lift up those who flounder, we make a difference in not just the lives of those we try to teach and help, but in our own lives.

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