Crime Entry and Exit among Brazilian Youth



The state of Rio de Janeiro has one of the highest youth homicide rates in Brazil. As of 2002, the homicide rate for individuals aged 15-24 was 118.9. The rates are particularly high for the black population and for males: 208.2 and 227.6. One of the reasons why the homicide rates are so high among young black men in Rio de Janeiro is that many of them are involved in the ongoing armed conflict between rival drug factions and the police.


This study uses data from a unique survey conducted by "Observatório de Favelas," a Brazilian NGO that collected detailed information on demographics, family background, and criminal activities for 230 individuals involved with drug-selling gangs in the slums — or favelas — of Rio de Janeiro. The survey respondents were between ages 11 and 24 when first interviewed between June and August of 2004. After the initial round, interviewers attempted to follow individuals monthly for the four subsequent months. In addition, death records were collected for the two-year period following the baseline interview.

Preliminary Findings

  • Individuals involved in gang activities come from families that are very similar to the average family in poor areas; they do not seem to be systematically from the lowest socioeconomic strata inside the favelas.
  • Among the gang members, those raised in the presence of the mother enter later into crime, while those whose family deemed them to be unruly typically enter at an earlier age.
  • There are no returns to education: the more-educated members of the gang earn as much as the less-educated.
  • There is a lot of mobility out of the gang: 22% of individuals interviewed left the gang at some point during the months following the initial interview.
  • The mortality rate over 2004-2006 for the 230 individuals reached an astounding 20%. This number is not comparable even to death rates of military personnel in severe conflict areas.
  • Individuals who come from larger families, who are more prone to risk and more aggressive, and who have less education are more likely to be killed.

Policy Impact

The results of the study suggest that family background and individual education may be important factors determining entry into crime. Since education is not rewarded within the gang, but it is in the regular labor market, human capital may weaken the link of individuals with the criminal world and increase the attractiveness of the legal labor market. Personality traits associated with aggressiveness and lack of submission to parental control also seem to play a role in early entry into crime. The provision of education and social support for troubled children may therefore constitute a good combination of policies to delay entry into crime.

Research Team

Leandro Carvalho, Principal Investigator
Rodrigo Soares