Gene Expression

Americans are good at murder?

Some debate below about the various parameters which shape social pathologies. One of facts which we are well aware of is that the United States has a lot of homicide compared to other developed countries. But another fact which is also well known is that a disproportionate number of these murders are committed by racial & ethnic minorities, as well as by particular subcultures (e.g., Southerners vs. New Englanders). So I took the state-by-state homicide rate and compared them to the international data for selection nations. Results below the fold….

Nation Homicide/100,000
Japan 0.5
Hong Kong 0.55
Greece 0.76
Switzerland 0.92
Ireland 0.95
Norway 1.07
Denmark 1.07
New Zealand 1.12
Netherlands 1.12
Germany 1.16
Spain 1.22
Italy 1.28
New Hampshire 1.4
North Dakota 1.4
Maine 1.4
UK 1.41
Canada 1.49
Australia 1.5
Iowa 1.6
Iceland 1.68
Czech Republic 1.7
France 1.73
Slovenia 1.79
Utah 1.9
South Korea 1.96
Hungary 2.05
Delaware 2
Idaho 2.2
Minnesota 2.2
Wyoming 2.2
South Dakota 2.3
Nebraska 2.3
Portugal 2.34
Rhode Island 2.4
Oregon 2.5
Connecticut 2.6
Massachusetts 2.6
Vermont 2.6
Hawaii 2.6
Wisconsin 2.8
Finland 2.83
Washington 3.1
Montana 3.2
Yemen 3.36
India 3.44
West Virginia 3.7
United States 4.28
Colorado 4.4
Bulgaria 4.46
Kansas 4.5
New Jersey 4.5
Ohio 4.5
New York 4.6
Indiana 5.1
Georgia 5.11
Virginia 5.2
Pennsylvania 5.2
Oklahoma 5.3
Florida 5.4
Alabama 5.6
Alaska 5.6
Poland 5.63
Kentucky 5.7
Tennessee 5.9
Illinois 6.1
Texas 6.1
Missouri 6.2
North Carolina 6.2
Arkansas 6.4
Michigan 6.4
California 6.7
Georgia 6.9
South Carolina 6.9
Arizona 7.2
Nevada 7.4
Mississippi 7.8
Moldova 7.81
New Mexico 8.9
Maryland 9.4 Ukraine 9.4
Belarus 9.83
Lithuania 10.29
Latvia 10.39
Estonia 10.73
Louisiana 12.7    
Mexico 13.02
    Russia 20.15
District of Columbia 35.8    

I would be surprised by Finland…but then, I know that they’re crazy!!! In any case, somewhat less than half perpetrators of homicide are white. Assuming that 3/4 of the 45% of homicide perpetrators who are white are not minorities (i.e., Hispanic/Latino), and renormalize the rate by the smaller population (0.70 of Americans are non-Hispanic whites), you can crank down the rate of homicide for this demo to 2.06 or so. That’s basically in the high range for a European country. I suspect that this rough figure is correct since New Hamphsire is almost totally non-Hispanic white & from the least “rowdy” of the four Anglo-Saxon folkways which settled this nation, and it is somewhat below the projected homicide rate for non-Hispanic whites overall (it seems likely that whites from the American South & West are more violent than those from New England or the Upper Midwest judging by higher imprisonment rates).


  1. #1 B.B
    April 18, 2008

    I’d expect less developed countries like India to have a higher homicide rates than reported. I doubt that the news of many crimes that happen in rural areas of undeveloped would would always get back to the central government.

  2. #2 Bert
    April 18, 2008

    Razib, I think you forgot two zero’s. It’s homocide per 100,000. Not per 1,000. Look at the international data.

  3. #3 Luis
    April 18, 2008

    I’d expect less developed countries like India to have a higher homicide rates than reported.

    Heard of “accidental death”? I doubt is so much a problem of bureaucracy as of corruption. This was highlighted by the recent murder and rape of a British girl in Goa – would she have been a local, or even would the mother not have moved all strings, the murder would not have been even investigated at all. That’s much less likely to happen in a developed country.

    Still, one of the problems in the USA is weapons availability. Ok, you can kill with a kitchen knife or a hammer… but it’s a lot easier to just pull a trigger, and it’s also easier to kill more people, more efefctively with one of those.

    And note that I am in favor of free weapons for all (in spite of being a leftist – or maybe because of that) – but I know it can increase violent crime too. The Bosnia war, for instance, would have been much more difficult without the territorial militia system of old Yugslavia that had everybody with a riffle at home. It can serve for self-defense and national defense… and it can serve for butchery as well.

  4. #4 HP
    April 18, 2008

    Americans are clearly no good at murder, since so many of them get caught. The Japanese, on the other hand, are excellent at murder. From the chart it is clear that at least 3/4 of all Japanese murders go undiscovered.

  5. #5 B.B
    April 18, 2008

    As far as the effects of libertine fire-arm policies are concerned, Switzerland is an interesting example. They are 4th on this homicide list, yet they have one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world.

  6. #6 B.B
    April 18, 2008

    Hey Razib, the homocide-rates in the wikipedia article you cite are per 100,000, not per 1,000 as your chart lists.

  7. #7 John Emerson
    April 18, 2008

    Swiss guns are registered and regulated, be it noted.

    I suspect that North Dakota has very high gun ownership, so obviously guns are not a sufficient cause of murder.

  8. #8 Alan Kellogg
    April 18, 2008

    One thing I noticed is that Russia and DC have the highest homicide rate of those listed. They are also places that are very dysfunctional socially, with severe problems.

    Other locations, such as California and Moldova, are known as unsettled locations. Moldova because of a troubled past and a troublesome transition to full independence, California thanks to a largely transient population and a lack of adequate infrastructure for the population. In neither place have the social traditions that serve other lands and peoples to limit crime taken hold to any great extent. When you don’t know or don’t trust your neighbor, it’s hard to let custom and tradition handle disputes.

  9. #9 TheMonkeyMan
    April 19, 2008

    What the hell is up with the district of colombia???

    Also Iceland having a high rate, and Ireland a low one, in particular stand out as interesting for me. I presumed Ireland had a higher murder rate than the UK, especially with the likes of Limerick and Cork.

  10. #10 jaakkeli
    April 19, 2008

    I would be surprised by Finland

    Yeah, the rate’s become surprisingly low. Ask any Swede.

    Those interested in firearms should note that Finland doesn’t have a really exceptional murder rate by firearm. Finns are notable for stabbing and battering people to death.

  11. #11 iRobot
    April 19, 2008

    Whats up with DC is grinding poverty. Sure the gov elite have nice lives, but go a little ways out and its a warm hell’s kitchen. People dont care much about the future and consequences of their actions if their life is already miserable.

  12. #12 John Emerson
    April 19, 2008

    IIRC, even at the height of the troubles Northern Ireland had quite a low murder rate.

    The chart confirms a cliche I heard long ago: the Italians, Greeks, and Irish lose their temper and blow off steam a lot, but are not murderous. Suppressing anger and holding grudges seems more conducive to murder.

    Though there are a lot of unexplained factors and generalizations are unwarranted. Portugal has about twice the murder rate of Spain, for example.

  13. #13 toto
    April 19, 2008

    Razib, I’m not sure what you’re trying to do here. You’re saying “look, if you consider small states full of rich white people, the US is not so violent”. Well, if you take out the Chav component of the British population, and also the Afro-Carribean part (though not the African part), I can assure you that the murder rates of Britain will reach near-Japanese levels.

    The proper comparison point with New Hampshire is not “the UK”, it’s Kent. When you break up entire populations into homogeneous components, the intra-national variance will scatter the results, but the difference in means (and perhaps also in extrema) will still show up.

  14. #14 jaakkeli
    April 19, 2008

    Hey, dividing Finland into components really emphasizes my “ask any Swede” point. Here’s the rate per province for Finland:

    A map of Finland’s Swedish population:!Finland_swedish-speaking_municipalities.png

    The general rule of course is that in a homogeneous population urbanization drives violence down. Countries like UK and Japan which are similar in size but much higher in population than Finland have far lower murder rates, but then diversity drives conflict up and diversity tends to concentrate in cities (in Finland the cities are still less violent than the countryside, but a few are now changing).

    Alaska is very similar to Finnish Lapland.

  15. #15 Colugo
    April 19, 2008

    Razib, it’s noteworthy that Finland’s male suicide rate is more than double that of the US.

  16. #16 razib
    April 19, 2008

    Razib, it’s noteworthy that Finland’s male suicide rate is more than double that of the US.


  17. #17 agnostic
    April 19, 2008

    What the hell is up with the district of colombia???

    DC is about 60% African-American, 33% White, and 7% Latino. Whites and middle-class Blacks are concentrated in the Northwest part, and the rest is pretty much desolate.

    It’s the only major US city I can think of where most people live in the surrounding suburbs, since the city is a jungle — when someone says “I’m from Maryland / Virginia,” that means the suburbs of DC in those states.

    It doesn’t have to do with poverty or misery, since Ashkenazi Jews lived in slums and crowded tenements for decades, and so did East Asians in dilapidated Chinatowns.

  18. #18 agnostic
    April 19, 2008

    Actually, Detroit is like that too — all in the suburbs, since most of the city is a dangerous dump.

  19. #19 Whodunnit
    April 19, 2008

    What, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland get to brag but not Sweden?!

    I mean, I don’t think we could compete with Finland or the US but we should be able to beat Japan or at the very least the Vatican. This should be a wake-up call for Swedes, we have to try harder!

    Perhaps our murder rate is so abyssmally low because most deaths get filed under “Death by IKEA Furniture”.

  20. #20 jaakkeli
    April 19, 2008

    Don’t worry, we let Juha Valjakkala go (again). If anyone can fix the Swedish murder shortage, it’s the Finnish justice system.

  21. #21 Leni
    April 19, 2008

    agnostic wrote:

    Actually, Detroit is like that too — all in the suburbs, since most of the city is a dangerous dump.

    As are a lot of the other big mid-western cities: Milwaukee, St. Louis, Gary.

    Not only are they dangerous, but they are some of the most racially segregated places in the country. I’ve seen an interesting study on racial segregation in American cities that showed that economic downturns caused population declines (particularly in the big mid-western manufacturing cities), which in turn exacerbated existing concentrations of poor, mostly non-white people in areas that became increasingly “ghettoized” as families with money and working adults left.

    And it certainly wasn’t just whites leaving, but anyone with the means to do so. Essentially, those who could leave did, and in substantial numbers. I don’t know exactly what the case in DC is, but in the mid-west, particularly in cities like Detroit and Milwaukee where manufacturing accounts for a rapidly decreasing percentage of job market, the concentration of poor minorities in high crime areas are directly linked to number of people leaving to find better jobs elsewhere.

    It seems to me that DC has decent job opportunities (unlike Detroit, the government sector in DC probably makes up a bit where the private sector fails), and I don’t know that the grinding poverty is worse in DC than it is anywhere else. I have to wonder if there isn’t something else (like total political disenfranchisement, coupled with gangs and other black market activity) colluding to make things particularly bad there. I just don’t know. I don’t understand it either. It just doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me that that the capitol would also have the most glaring poverty and crime problems. That just doesn’t seem like it would be a coincidence.

  22. #22 Leni
    April 19, 2008

    If anyone can fix the Swedish murder shortage, it’s the Finnish justice system.


    WTF? What have you people got against the poor Finns?

  23. #23 Cherish
    April 19, 2008

    I suspect that North Dakota has very high gun ownership, so obviously guns are not a sufficient cause of murder.

    That is true, but the population here is extremely homogenous and relatively well-educated. On the other hand, while there are a lot of people living below poverty level, the cost of living here is significantly lower than most other places, so being at poverty level doesn’t necessarily imply the same things that it does in more urban areas.

    People here mostly own guns for the purposes of hunting. (You may also want to consider that a high level of gun ownership means a level of shotgun ownership, not necessarily semi-automatics, handguns, and other types of weapons which are typically used in crimes.) I wouldn’t want to see those levels of gun ownership in a different population dynamic. Unfortunately, you can’t “fix” population distributions, but you can remove the means to commit murder.

  24. #24 PhillyGuy
    April 19, 2008

    The DOJ counts hispanics as white for the purpose of keeping statistics on crimes perpetrated. (Interesting since our government loves to break us down into race and ethnicity for most other statistics.) According to Edwin Rubenstein (, Hispanic incarceration rates for murder are about 72 per 100,000 vs. 24 per 100,000 for whites. This indicates that Hispanics commit about 3 times as many murders as whites in proportion to their population. (This ratio could obviously be off if there are significant differences in arrest, charging and conviction rates by ethnicity – I would expect the undocumented status of many Hispanics combined with their clustering in communities that are unwilling to cooperate with law enforcement means that their true murder rate is likely higher – and, given that murder sentences tend to be long, and that many Hispanics are new arrivals, the whites imprisoned for murder may have been imprisoned for a longer time on average, which would again bias the Hispanic murder rate estimated from incarceration downward relative to whites.) However, for the purposes of this rough, off the cuff calculation, if we accept that the Hispanic murder rate is 3 times that of whites per capita, that 45% of murders are committed by non-hispanic whites and hispanics, and that there are roughly 4 times as many non-hispanic whites in the US as hispanics (nearly 200 million to upwards of 45 million), we would expect that whites commit 4/7ths of 45% of murders, or 25.7% of murders in the US even though they are about 2/3rds of the population. Following Razib’s calculations, (4/7)(.45)(4.28)(3/2) = 1.65 murders per 100,000. If this is correct, then US whites are a fairly well behaved bunch.

  25. #25 windy
    April 19, 2008

    This should be a wake-up call for Swedes, we have to try harder!

    Don’t worry, you can always specialize in the rarer brands, like adulterous Pentecostal murder pacts, or government members.

    WTF? What have you people got against the poor Finns?

    Poor is right, says so right in the national anthem: “Our land is poor, and so it shall remain”

  26. #26 Colugo
    April 19, 2008

    Don’t forget the al-Qaeda threat against Sweden mentioning IKEA.

    CBS News
    Sep 15, 2007
    Al Qaeda: $100G To Kill Swedish Cartoonist

    “The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq offered money for the murder of a Swedish cartoonist who recently produced images deemed insulting to Islam . …

    “We know how to force you to retreat and apologize and if you don’t, wait for us to strike the economy of your giant companies including Ericsson, Scania, Volvo, Ikea, and Electrolux,” he said.”

  27. #27 RKU
    April 20, 2008

    Well, if anyone wants to actually use these sorts of numbers in a meaningful way, you really have to apply some immediate normalizations.

    The easiest and most obvious is with respect to age. Basically, a hugely disproportionate share of all crime—and violent crime in particular—is committed by males in the prime-crime years, say 15-40. If you just crudely assume that something like this is the relevant population, you’ll get much more realistic national and international estimates.

    For example, I think Japan and several European countries have much older populations, and this is also true of some Great Plains states, where most of the younger people move away looking for jobs.

  28. #28 jim
    April 20, 2008

    To summarize the various claims:

    1. Urbanization lowers murder rates
    2. Diversity raises murder rates
    3. Certain ethnic groups have higher murder rates
    4. Gun availability raises murder rates
    5. An older population lowers murder rates

    So an old, ethnically homogeneous, highly urbanized society with strict gun control should have very low murder rates.

    Also, I’ve read elsewhere that Japan classifies all murder-suicides as just suicides. So a tragedy where a father kills his family and himself, would count as 4 suicides and not 3 murders and 1 suicide. Is this true of Japan? Do other countries do this.

  29. #29 tom bri
    April 20, 2008

    It is also interesting to note that the cities in the US with the very highest murder rates (varies a bit from year to year), DC, Chicago, and Detroit, all are very restrictive of gun ownership. In DC gun ownership is essentially outlawed, and in Chicago you can only own a handgun if you are a politician, or if you owned one many years ago and got it grandfathered in.

    Gun laws, registration or outright bans, don’t seem to help. The US and Canada both have very large gun owning populations, but are much less violent than our Latin American neighbors, who all have very restrictive gun laws. Culture seems to override law. Jamaica is a good case in point.

  30. #30 Sandgroper
    April 20, 2008

    jim – No, in Hong Kong that would be counted as 3 murders plus a suicide. The low murder rate quoted for Hong Kong is accounted for by the fact that it has a low murder rate. The rates of all violent crimes are similarly low. It has an ageing population, but not particularly so compared to many western countries and especially Japan.
    No numbers for Singapore but I would expect them also to be low.

    Re gun ownership, it would be interesting to see how the stats compare on murder vs accidental shooting death. Just at the minute, I can’t locate any numbers.

    Diana gave me some interesting stuff a while back on how the murder rate in NYC dropped when the NYPD started cracking down on the carrying of unlicensed firearms.

  31. #31 lagerweb
    April 21, 2008

    Middle Eastern figures could be skewed. Are hounour killings counted as murders in Arab countries? or “accidental deaths” of immigrant labour?

    Could there be a corelation of access to alcohol rather than just access to weapons in murder statistics? Finland maybe… but Ireland and NZ may be exceptions though seem to be awash in alcohol.
    Interesting that NZ rate is trending downwards considering the increased diversity of the population and the presence of the MOA gene in many of the Maori population(15%) and the boy racer gene in the rest of the population?
    Perhaps being sports mad is a good outlet for aggression…therefore should be encouraged!

  32. #32 jaakkeli
    April 21, 2008

    Sports madness really won’t do it…

    Of course, the best thing about that… Sweden is number two! Bwahahaha

  33. #33 lagerweb
    April 22, 2008

    Well done Finland, but I can think of one country that might have eclipsed you in the medal stats…if it still existed. East Germany. However best left out considering their training methods and ‘supplements’.
    Notice that the Finns’ distant cousins the Estonians and the Hungarians also are very high on the table?

  34. #34 Spaulding
    April 22, 2008

    Note that DC adjoins Virginia, which has notoriously lax gun control laws. DC’s gun laws may enact harsher penalties for illegal gun control ownership, but they are helpless to reduce gun availability when guns are trivially accessible just a short drive away.

  35. #35 Kevin P.
    November 24, 2008

    Sorry, I know this is an old post, but I wanted to respond to Spaulding above:

    Note that DC adjoins Virginia, which has notoriously lax gun control laws. DC’s gun laws may enact harsher penalties for illegal gun control ownership, but they are helpless to reduce gun availability when guns are trivially accessible just a short drive away.

    This is absolutely true. In Virginia, guns are freely available, and can be carried outside your home concealed with a license, and can be carried openly without a license. In DC, you cannot carry any gun outside your home, and until the Heller case, could not even keep a loaded gun inside your own home.

    Result, from Razib’s chart:
    Virginia 5.2
    District of Columbia 35.8

  36. #36 Kevin P.
    November 24, 2008

    Thanks for the excellent work on this table, Razib. It is very revealing, and like all good research, raises even more questions :-)

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