Deterring delinquents: A rational choice model of theft and violence

Ross L. Matsueda, David Huizinga, Derek A. Kreager

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

312 Scopus citations


This article examines criminal behavior from a rational choice perspective, the set of behavioral principles underlying our legal institution. The authors use a subjective utility approach and specify experiential learning models of the formation of risk perceptions and rational choice models of theft and violence. They estimate the models using panel data on high risk youth from the Denver Youth Survey. Using random effects Tobit models of perceived risk and negative binomial models of counts of criminal acts, the authors find support for a rational choice model. Perceived risk follows a Bayesian updating model in which current risk perceptions are a function of prior risk perceptions plus new information based on experience with crime and arrest and observations of peers. Theft and violence are a function of the perceived risk of arrest, subjective psychic rewards (including excitement and social status), and perceived opportunities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-122
Number of pages28
JournalAmerican sociological review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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