Juvenile drunkenness is on the increase. This is the first conclusion that strikes the reader of the report on Social Problems of Postwar Youth which the Economic Research Council has just published.
The figures of convictions for drink, which in 1953 were already about 50 per cent higher than in 1949, actually doubled themselves between 1953 and 1954. With this has gone a slight rise in detected crimes of sex and violence. Housebreaking is about as low as at any time since the war.
Still, the figures are disturbing enough. But how is one to interpret them? The Economic Research Council certainly makes statistical rings round last year's White Paper, which tried to belittle the harmful influence of National Service (combined with full employment and unprecedentedly high wages) on the education and employment of young men (though anyone might have safely assumed that it would be formidable).
All the same, one can understand the refusal of many magistrates and youth workers to join the council's jeremiad. It is not just that such people usually are, and have to be, constitutionally optimistic. So many imponderables are involved. Is not livelier public scandal proof of a livelier public conscience? Are convictions perhaps more numerous because prosecution is more vigorous?
One can cite the example of the recent increase in the number of young girls whom courts recommend for care and protection, which probably comes about because there are more women police than there used to be, and not because there are absolutely more of such girls about.
Nevertheless, the figures for drunkenness remain ambiguous in the last resort, but challenging and not to be ignored.