‘When it rains, it pours’: Housing evictions and criminal convictions in Sweden

AuthorSusanne Alm,Olof Bäckman
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/1477370820905107
Published date01 July 2022
Date01 July 2022
Subject MatterArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/1477370820905107
European Journal of Criminology
© The Author(s) 2020
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DOI: 10.1177/1477370820905107
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‘When it rains, it pours’:
Housing evictions and
criminal convictions in Sweden
Susanne Alm
Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University, Sweden
Olof Bäckman
Department of Criminology, Stockholm University, Sweden
Abstract
Precarious housing and criminal behaviour are both important elements in processes of
marginalization and cumulative disadvantage. It is well known that housing eviction primarily
affects the weakest groups in society. In this article we ask if housing eviction has an independent
effect on subsequent criminality and if the effect varies across different types of crime (utilitarian,
violent and drug crime). Using propensity score matching on administrative register data covering
all housing evictions in Sweden 2009, linked with crime registers and registers containing other
relevant background information, we find that eviction increases the conviction rates for all
analysed crime types, utilitarian crime in particular.
Keywords
Housing evictions, criminal convictions, administrative data, propensity score matching
It could be claimed that theories of social exclusion, cumulative disadvantage, margin-
alization, and so on, are all attempts to conceptualize the expression ‘when it rains, it
pours’. We know from studies in these areas of research that resource deficiencies in one
social arena increase the risk of resource deficiencies in other arenas, and that prior expe-
riences of disadvantage tend to foster new ones. This phenomenon has been described
using formulations such as ‘one period of failure breeds another’ or ‘vicious circles’, and
the ‘cumulative disadvantage’ concept is of course intended to capture the very nature of
such processes.
Corresponding author:
Susanne Alm, Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University, Universitetsvägen 10F,
Stockholm, 106 91, Sweden.
Email: susanne.alm@sofi.su.se
905107EUC0010.1177/1477370820905107European Journal of CriminologyAlm and Bäckman
research-article2020
Article
2022, Vol. 19(4) 612–631
A precarious housing situation and criminal behaviour are both important elements in
processes of marginalization and cumulative disadvantage. It is well known that eviction
predominantly affects the weakest groups in society, viewed in economic as well as
social and health-related terms (Von Otter et al., 2017). It is also well known that these
groups are overrepresented in registered crime (Bäckman and Nilsson, 2011). However,
less is known specifically about the link between housing evictions and criminality
among those who have experienced an eviction.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the 2010 Eurozone crisis, both the US and
Europe experienced a boom in evictions and foreclosures, which in this instance affected
not only poor households but also the ‘middle class’. This development has led housing
exclusion researchers to, in addition to homelessness, start paying attention to the causes
and consequences of housing evictions. However, despite a fair amount of existing
research that has focused on the link between homelessness and criminality, the corre-
sponding link between housing evictions and criminality has, until recently, been ignored.
One recent study reported strong evidence suggesting that being evicted has an inde-
pendent effect on the risk of subsequent criminal convictions in Sweden (Alm, 2018). An
eviction event increased the risk of a criminal conviction at the individual level by 54 per
cent (Alm, 2018: 270–1).1 The study concludes with a discussion about how, depending
on the type of crime, we might expect to find divergent patterns of criminality in the
period following an eviction. This issue can help us to further scrutinize the nature of the
relationship between housing precariousness and criminality.
Picking up on the above, the aim of the present study is to shed light on the mechanisms
that lie behind the relationship between evictions and crime by exploring how housing
evictions are related to various crime types. Improving our understanding of this issue is
important not only in itself, but also in relation to crime prevention and social policies
aimed at improving the situation of those threatened by eviction. We do this by distinguish-
ing between (1) utilitarian crimes such as theft and fraud, (2) drug offences (which may or
may not be utilitarian) and (3) violent crimes. Our hypotheses on the relationships between
eviction and different types of crimes are guided by sociological and criminological theory,
primarily in terms of classic and general strain theory, and a resource perspective.
The empirical analyses are based on the Dynamics of Evictions in Sweden (DEVS)
database, which includes longitudinal information on evictions and criminal convictions
(see Von Otter et al., 2017). The DEVS database contains information on all evictions
carried out in Sweden during the period 2009–12 (N = 8450). Data on criminal convic-
tions are available for the years 1990–2013.
The article continues with a short introduction to the issue of evictions in Sweden,
followed by a review of previous research and a presentation of the study’s theoretical
framework. There then follows a description of the DEVS database and the operationali-
zations of the variables, and a discussion of the study’s analytical strategy. The results are
then presented, and the article concludes with a summary and discussion.
Evictions in Sweden
Each year, approximately 3000 households are evicted in Sweden (Von Otter et al., 2017).
However, since many tenants are likely to leave their homes before the actual eviction
613
Alm and Bäckman

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