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Study Finds Walmart Has Lower Crime ‘Rollbacks’

Feb. 13, 2014
SHSU Media Contact: Beth Kuhles

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Dozens of studies have examined “The Walmart effect,” the company’s influence on economic and social factors, including jobs, poverty and retail prices.

But a new study from professors at Sam Houston State University and the University of South Carolina investigates another component of the effect that has never been examined—Walmart's effect on crime rates.

headshot David Pyrooz
David Pyrooz

The study, “Rolling back prices and raising crime rates? The Walmart effect on crime in the United States,” examined 3,109 counties across the United States, comparing property and violent crime rates in 767 counties where Walmart expanded with similar counties where they did not build.

It found that in counties where Walmart expanded, there were 17 additional property crimes and two additional violent crimes for every 10,000 people, compared to counties where Walmart did not expand in the 1990s.

The study was co-authored by David Pyrooz, an assistant criminal justice professor at SHSU, and Scott Wolfe, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, and was published online by the British Journal of Criminology.

“The evidence suggests Walmart growth stunted what could have otherwise been greater drops in crime, particularly property crime,” Pyrooz said.

The research, however, is not an exercise in the “criminology of the unpopular,” the study emphasized.

“It was an open question,” Wolfe said. “There have been dozens of studies on the ‘Walmart effect’ showing the company impacts numerous outcomes closely related to crime. Our objective was to determine if the Walmart effect extended to understanding crime rates during arguably one of the most pivotal historical periods in the study of crime.”

The study found that Walmart tended to expand in counties with higher than average crime rates even after taking into account factors such as poverty, unemployment, immigration, population structure, and residential turnover.

The authors speculate that much of this relationship occurred because Walmart finds better success building in communities that are less likely to protest the company’s entrance.

“Counties with more social capital—citizens able and willing to speak up about the best interests of the community—tend to have lower crime rates,” Pyrooz indicated.

The study suggest that the reason why Wal-Mart obstructs crime declines “appears to be a more complex question than data typically available to researchers can answer.”

The research did not find that Walmart’s growth corresponded with increases in poverty, economic disadvantage, or other correlates of crime; rather, Wolfe said, “More research is needed to uncover why the Walmart effect extends to crime—does it reduce community social cohesion or simply increase opportunities for theft and other crimes in specific store locations that are great enough to influence county crime rates?”

The study stresses that Walmart does not have a detrimental impact on all counties. While the franchise’s growth can be beneficial in some communities, particularly those in economic distress, the problem is that Walmart is less likely to grow in communities with depressed economic conditions.




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