Edited later to fix the problem that I read "excluding arrests for minor traffic violations" as "including arrests for minor traffic violations" in my notes.
A new study looks at this. From the abstract:
In this study, we examine race, sex, and self-reported arrest histories (excluding arrests for minor traffic violations) from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97; N = 7,335) for the period 1997 through 2008 covering cumulative arrest histories through ages 18 and 23. The analysis produces three key findings: (a) males have higher cumulative prevalence of arrest than females and (b) there are important race differences in the probability of arrest for males but not for females. Assuming that the missing cases are missing at random (MAR), about 30% of Black males have experienced at least one arrest by age 18 (vs. about 22% for White males); by age 23 about 49% of Black males have been arrested (vs. about 38% for White males). Earlier research using the NLSY97 showed that the risk of arrest by age 23 was 30%, with nonresponse bounds [25.3%, 41.4%]. This study indicates that the risk of arrest is not evenly distributed across the population. Future research should focus on the identification and management of collateral risks that often accompany arrest experiences.
A few things are worth noting about that:
First, the overall arrest rates by age twenty-three are pretty high for all the groups the study analyzes. They are the highest for black men (49%), but the rates are pretty high for all men and I, at least, found the women's rates surprisingly high, too. From another writeup of the study:
According to the study, the arrest rate for American males increases significantly from age 18 to age 23. Their study examined different racial groups and found:
• 30 percent of non-Hispanic black males had been arrested by age 18. That figure jumped to 49 percent by age 23.
• 26 percent of Hispanic males had been arrested by age 18. That jumped to 44 percent by age 23.
• 22 percent of non-black, non-Hispanic (white) males had been arrested by age 18. That jumped to 38 percent by age 23.
And for women:
Although the study supports a marked difference between arrests young males by race, there was little significant difference between female racial groups.
According to researchers, white females had the highest arrest rate of all female racial groups at age 18 (12 percent), with Hispanic and black females trailing by less than a percentage point.
And while the prevalence of arrest did increase by age for young females in all racial groups, even at age 23, the highest arrest percentage was 20 percent (for white females).
Second, the study is based on self-reporting. If memory problems and response biases differ by race and/or gender the results may not lend themselves to direct comparisons, though I don't see any apriori reason why that would be the case.
I really should acquire the paper and read it (but don't have immediate access to it), because it might answer some of the questions all this provokes:
Why do we see a racial pattern for men but not for women? What proportion of all arrests are repeat ones in each race/gender grouping? How do location characteristics (such as the racial composition of an area or the average income of an area) affect arrest rates?
If you read an earlier version of this blog post, note that I misread the bit about the minor traffic violations. This version has fixed that. My apologies. Thanks to Blue in the comments for pointing that out.
Addendum: This piece offers further criticisms of the study, including the way it handles missing cases (though all ways of handling them have their own problems). I agree that this can be problematic. On the other hand, I don't think that the sub-samples in the study were necessarily too small for the analysis.