This paper studies the effects of a large income shock on crime using a unique dataset based on 19th century French administrative data and records of wine production at the departmental level. By exploiting the large drop in wine production and the consequent fall in agricultural income caused by the phylloxera crisis we estimate the causal effect on violent and property crime rates. Our results show the phylloxera crisis had a strong impact on property crime rates, plausibly driven by the impact of the phylloxera on the economic conditions of those living in the affected departments.
The results are robust to various alternative explanations including possible changes in the criminal justice system or in migration flows following the phylloxera crisis.The results are consistent with the standard economic model of crime and suggest that property crimes and in particular theft may have been used by some of the French rural population in 19th century as a risk coping strategy. Other forms of crime such as violent crimes do not appear to respond to the phylloxera shock. Despite it is very difficult to draw policy conclusions from an exercise not designed to test the effect of a specific policy, our findings are consistent with the idea that an insurance safety net against negative income shocks may result in a reduction of property crime rates.
That is from the paper "Stealing to Survive: Crime and Income Shocks in 19th Century France" by Bignon, Caroli, and Galbiati.