Violent Crime

U.S. Homicide Rate 1900 - 2010

U.S. Homicide Rate 1900 - 2010 from Baby Boomers, Generation X and Social Cycles: North American Long-waves, 2007 edition, page 228, figure 6.06. Updated June 2011.

It has long been believed that economics is the primary cause of violent crime in society. Yet as we enter the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, violent crime rates have actually been declining. There are many dimensions to crime, and in order for us to understand the declining crime rate, we will briefly examine a few of these other dimensions here.

The opportunity to commit a violent crime and the diversion of activities away from crime are two of the most cited dimensions of crime found in the media after economics. At anytime that the crime rate goes down, police and security services often use the occasion to take credit because they believe that their strategies to reduce the opportunity for crime were effective. Or politicians would take credit for opening playgrounds and sports arenas to give young people a diversion away from criminal activities, if left alone. What is rarely studied is the ability to commit a violent crime and the propensity to commit a violent crime and how these impact the crime rate.

Taking a look at the long-term homicide rate, we find that violent crime comes in waves, following changes in demographics and the Kondratieff wave. From figure 6.06, we see that throughout the 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression, the crime rate fell, as it is falling now, during this recession. We see also, that during the early 1900s, and in the 1960s and 1970s, a period of prosperity, the crime rate increased. These statistics do not corroborate the belief that economics and crime move together, hence studies that correlate a poor economy with a high crime do not look at the long-term data. This does not prove that there is no correlation between poverty and crime however. That is a different study altogether.

When crime follows demographics, the more likely explanation is that the ability to commit a violent crime and the propensity to commit a violent crime changes as society changes from a proportionately younger population to a proportionately older population. Younger people simply have more physical energy. Men are at the peak of physical fitness in their 20s, as can be seen from the youthfulness of athletes that win most of the sports tournaments. By their 30s, physical fitness in men begins to decline. Hence younger people have a greater ability to participate in violent crime than older people. And do younger people have a greater propensity to participate in violent crime than older people? Propensity is not the right word, but the option is more open for young people to participate than older people. Older people tend to remember the experience and recklessness of their youth. The physical energy is not there, neither to commit crimes, to defend against attacks, or to escape. Adrenaline and testosterone are also in short supply. Furthermore, there is a suppressing effect when there are more older people in society than younger, causing a lowering of the crime rate amongst younger people. Taken together, these factors have played a major role in lowering the overall crime rate.

The homicide rate is the lowest in more than 50 years and, with an aging population as a guide, should go lower still. It is possible that the U.S. homicide rate could reach its lowest point in more than 100 years in the near future, if it is not there already, since the homicide rate in figure 6.06 consists of two discontinuous statistical series.

Violent crime, of course, is not the same as white collar crime or corruption. That may fall in the domain of an older population, but statistics will have to be gathered to corroborate that point.