Violence on the Decline

From Monday’s Washington Post:

The District, New York and Los Angeles are on track for fewer killings this year than in any other year in at least four decades. Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and other cities are also seeing notable reductions in homicides.

Full article is here, in which more sensible police approaches are given credit for the decline.

While it’s probably true that police deserve a lot of credit, it helps to remember that violence is a virus and it spreads from person to person.  The more violence people see around them, the more violence that breeds.  And the converse is also true.  The exogenous factors are hard to suss out, but my suspicion is that the general rise in wealth and well-being in the world is the main factor.  This is consistent with the counterintuitive but real fact that violence has been in decline for centuries and we currently live in the most peaceful time ever.

Kevin points out:

I often mention the availability bias when quoting statistics on crime.  If you ask people, they’ll say crime has gotten worse–IMO because media has become consistently better at shoving stories of violence into our brains.  But the statistics say otherwise.

This is especially poignant when you talk about child abduction by strangers.  People think this is a much worse problem (and why you don’t see kids playing in their neighborhoods).  But I believe the statistics show the incidence is not any different than it was when we were growing up.

Which brings us to the role of media in propagating myths and creating self-fulfilling prophecies.

I’m curious, what are the statistics on abductions and predatory crime towards children now versus 30 years ago?

  • danielhorowitz

    Hard to get good sources on this but there seems to be a consensus that in the 1980’s when child abductions were first really tracked in detail, there were 200-300 kidnappings.
    The 1980 and 1990 U.S. census’ reflect the child population at 63.6 and 63.7 million respectively. Let’s average that to 63.65 and take the lower bound of kidnappings @ 200.

    This gives us a rate of 3 kidnappings per 1 million children.

    2002 DOJ report has the number of child abductions @ 115, and the 2000 U.S. census has the child population at 71.8 million.
    This gives us a rate of 1.6 kidnappings per 1 million children.

    So, give or take, we have perhaps a 50% decrease in child abductions.

    n.b. I am counting “stereotypical kidnappings” which involve “a stranger or slight acquaintance, who detains the child overnight, transports the child at least 50 miles, holds the child for ransom, abducts the child with intent to keep the child permanently, or kills the child.” (DOJ, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/196465.pdf)

  • This is an interesting study – http://www.eh.uc.edu/news/pdfs/DietrichK-Dicovery-05-28-08.pdf – saying that the removal of lead from gasoline and Roe v Wade are responsible for the reduction of crime. Food for thought.

  • This is an interesting study – http://www.eh.uc.edu/news/pdfs/DietrichK-Dicovery-05-28-08.pdf saying that the removal of lead from gasoline and Roe v Wade are
    responsible for the reduction of crime. Food for thought.