The media would have us believe that millennials are pretty strait-laced: They reportedly drink less alcohol, do more good deeds and have less sex than previous generations. Yet new research suggests that law enforcement may have a different view of Generation Y.
A new Johns Hopkins University study finds that millennials are more likely to be arrested than their predecessors, in spite of actual criminal activity.
Researchers say this study, published in The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, shows how young people are negatively impacted by zero-tolerance policing.
“The idea that there’s a direct link between committing a crime and having contact with the criminal justice system is essential to public policy, political rhetoric and criminology, and the assumption is rarely questioned,” said professor Vesla Weaver, the study’s first author. “However, our study found that there is a loosening relationship between actually committing a crime and being arrested for the millennial generation, something that was not true for . . . Gen X.”
Weaver’s team used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which asks young adults to self-report crimes and describe their experiences with the criminal justice system. They specifically took responses from participants who were between 18 and 23 years old in the years 1979 and 1997.
Researchers found that, while 52 percent of the Gen X group admitted to committing at least one offense (not including drug use), only 10 percent had ever been arrested. Compare that to the 25 percent of millennials who had been arrested — even though only 15 percent reported having actually committed a crime.
Additionally, 70 percent of the younger group who’d been arrested claimed to have done no wrong. Just 18 percent of the Gen Xers contested their offenses.
The groups were chosen because they fall on either side of a shift in American policing in the late ’80s and early ’90s when a heavier emphasis was placed on low-level crimes.
The abstract also notes that race has been a substantial factor: Millennial black men were 419 percent more likely to be arrested absent of a crime than their Gen-X counterparts.
Meanwhile, other studies have shown that arrests have a far-reaching impact, often leading to fewer job prospects, lower income and an increased likelihood of later criminal involvement.
Says Weaver, “Our reform strategy should not only focus on decreasing punitive interventions but on realigning exposure to arrest with criminal offending.”