Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Immigrant crime in Sweden

In many social outcomes, such as crime Sweden outperforms the US. An important question is whether this is due to Swedish welfare state policies, or due to demographic and cultural factors. Would the United States achieve the same outcomes with Swedish policies, or different outcomes due to American demographics and cultural factors?

In order to answer this immigrant outcomes is an useful indicator. Let us look at crime.

Sweden refuses to report the incarceration rate of immigrants. They do however report the incarceration rate of foreign citizens (people who don't have Swedish passports, not dual citizens). Immigrants who have gotten Swedish citizenship (56% of the foreign born 2008) will be counted as Swedes.

This measure will both underestimate and overestimate crime. It will overestimate crime if immigrants who have not yet become citizens are more criminal than other immigrants. It underestimates crime because the higher crime rate of immigrants that have become citizens are baked into the Swedish figures (also sometimes serious crime leads to deportation).

In the latest available year foreign nationals constituted 6% of the Swedish population and 29% of the prison population. Foreigners are thus 6.2 times as likely to be incarcerated than Swedes, or 520% higher incarceration rate.

The over-representation is even higher for middle eastern citizens, who are 6.6 as likely as Swedish citizens to be in prison.
Lastly African citizens are 10.9 times as likely as Swedish citizens to be in prison.

Swedish citizens have an incarceration rate of 45 per 100.000.

African citizens in Sweden in contrast have an incarceration rate of 490 per 100.000.

These people live under the Swedish welfare system. If the welfare system was the reason Swedes commit so little crime, it should have affected the immigrants similarly. Clearly it has not. My conclusion is that demography is as important or even more important than policy in explaining Swedish crime rates.


  1. Very interesting data, in the source below they report 74 per 10e5, different data though. A control for the US is perhaps Canada which is reported to have 116 (the US 756) and for Sweden the other Nordic countries which are less heterogeneous; Finland, Norway and Denmark with respectively 64, 69 and 63 vs Sweden's 74.

    It seems clear that the business potential in keeping people in prison is underexploited in most countries.

    Source: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/law/research/icps/downloads/wppl-8th_41.pdf
    "The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, 756 per 100,000 of the national population, followed by Russia (629), Rwanda (604), St Kitts & Nevis (588), Cuba (c.531), U.S. Virgin Is. (512), British Virgin Is. (488), Palau (478), Belarus (468), Belize (455), Bahamas (422), Georgia (415), American Samoa (410), Grenada (408) and Anguilla (401)."


  2. Some older crime statistics for second-generation immigrants in Sweden are provided by Peter L. Martens in this paper. See Table 9 and Table 11.

    North African immigrants appear to be particularly nasty. Black Africans appear to be similar to most other immigrants, and East Asians appear to be similar to natives in criminality.

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