Scope And Conceptual Issues In Testing The Race-Crime Invariance Thesis: Black, White, And Hispanic Comparisons

Darrell Steffensmeier, Jeffery T. Ulmer, Ben Feldmeyer, Casey T. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Our goal in this article is to contribute conceptually and empirically to assessments of the racial invariance hypothesis, which posits that structural disadvantage predicts violent crime in the same way for all racial and ethnic groups. Conceptually, we elucidate the scope of the racial invariance hypothesis and clarify the criteria used for evaluating it. Empirically, we use 1999-2001 averaged arrest data from California and New York to extend analyses of the invariance hypothesis within the context of the scope and definitional issues raised in our conceptual framing-most notably by including Hispanic comparisons with Blacks and Whites, by examining the invariance assumption for homicide as well as the violent crime index, by using discrete as well as composite disadvantage measures, and by using census place localities as the study unit. The mixed findings we report from our comparisons (across Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics; offense types; and type of disadvantage) suggest caution and uncertainty about the notion that structural sources of violence affect racial/ethnic groups in uniform ways. We conclude that the hypothesis should be regarded as provisional, and its scope remains to be established as to whether it applies only under narrow conditions or is a principle of general applicability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1133-1169
Number of pages37
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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