Uncertainty, cooperation, and crime: Understanding the decision to co-offend

Bill McCarthy*, John Hagan, Lawrence E. Cohen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


A substantial body of research suggests that, in spite of the risks associated with co-offending, offenders frequently choose to work together. Dominant theories of crime, as well as those of decision making in general (e.g., game theory), typically assume that people's choises are based on instrumentally rational calculations; however, research on decision making highlights the limitations of this assumption for understanding decisions to cooperate in both noncriminal and criminal activities. We draw on work on social dilemma theories, as well as James Coleman's treatise on collective action (1990), for other insights into the motivation to cooperate. We extend these ideas and argue that the challenges of everyday adversity and contacts with potential co-offenders may increase people's willingness to trust others and co-offend. Employing data from a two-wave panel of street youth in Toronto and Vancouver, we test these ideas in multivariate models of street theft. We find that of the various cooperative styles examined, a form we call collaboration is most important in facilitating crime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-184
Number of pages30
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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