Female Homicide Victimization in Spain from 1910 to 2014: the Price of Equality?


This paper studies trends in female homicide victimization in Spain from 1910 to 2014 and puts them in relation with several indicators of the evolution of women’s roles and status in the society. According to mortality statistics, female homicide victimization followed an overall upward trend interrupted only during the periods in which the country lived under dictatorships. Measures of women’s roles and status in society show a change from traditional to non-traditional roles since the 1960s. A multivariate autoregression analysis suggests that the female homicide victimization trend is correlated mainly with opportunity-based and non-gender sensitive variables.

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  1. 1.

    UNECE Statistical Division Database. Crime and Violence. Victims of homicide by relationship of perpetrator to victim and sex. Available online (last acceded on 15-06-2017) at: http://w3.unece.org/PXWeb2015/pxweb/en/STAT/STAT__30-GE__07-CV/ZZZ_en_GECr_VictimHomicide_r.px/?rxid=0c45cf02-7b90-4ac6-8327-bc8203b71020

  2. 2.

    See pages 16, 33, 36, 37, and 39 of González-Alvarez et al. (2018).

  3. 3.

    The explanation of female victimization proposed by Verkko has sometimes been misunderstood. According to Gartner (1990:524), “Finnish criminologist Veli Verkko (1951:54) viewed the gender gap as grounded in the fundamentally ‘different biological qualities of men and women,’ such that inevitably ‘the woman lives in a somewhat different and more peaceful atmosphere than the man.’ The strength of this biological determinism meant, for Verkko, that there should be little variability in female victimization over time or place, and consequently that variation in the gender gap could be explained solely by variation in the victimization of males.” However, Verkko did not invoke biological differences to explain the gender gap in homicide victims but in homicide perpetrators, among which men are also overrepresented: “The regularities dealt with are based on the fact that female criminality against life is, figuratively speaking, a constant, which, as a rule, remains at the same level even if male criminality fluctuates strongly in either direction. It is obvious that the different biological qualities of men and women are the fundamental cause of this phenomenon” (Verkko 1967: 44). This means that the explanation of gender differences in homicide perpetration proposed by Verkko is based on biology, while his explanation of gender differences in homicide victimization is inspired by a situational approach.

  4. 4.

    In our opinion, the backslash and amelioration hypothesis focus on the psychological motivations of male attackers and therefore should be considered a micro-level hypothesis. They could be tested in studies whose goal is to analyze the motivations of specific offenders, but do not seem appropriate when the goal is to explain female homicide victimization at the macro-level because the vast majority of men do not use violence against women.

  5. 5.

    Killias et al. (2012) studied trends in homicide victimization in Switzerland, from 1877 to 2008, according to mortality statistics disaggregated by gender. They observe a constant decrease of the rate of female victims aged up to 14 years, but a relative stability for older victims until the 1940s; on the contrary, the rate of male victims decreased constantly for all categories of ages until the middle of the twentieth century. Killias et al. (2012: 99-107) conclude that Swiss women did not benefit from the positive consequences of the civilizing process described by Elias (1939/2000)—which is characterized by a progressive restraint of aggressive impulses accompanied by the acceptance of humanistic values (Gurr 1981)—that has been commonly used to explain the decrease in interpersonal violence in Western countries since the late Middle Ages. The findings of Killias et al. (2012) suggest that the theory of the civilizing process deserves also to be tested with homicide data disaggregated by the gender of the victim, instead of with aggregated data as has usually been the case until now (see, e.g., Gurr 1981; Eisner 2003, 2008; Pinker 2011). Unfortunately, that hypothesis cannot be tested with our data because, as we will see later, data on the age of the victims are only available in Spain since 1931.

  6. 6.

    Barberet (1994) also studied homicide trends from 1960 to 1989 but her dissertation remains unpublished, and we have been unable to obtain access to it.

  7. 7.

    For a review of literature about violence against women during armed conflict and postconflict, see Barberet (2014).

  8. 8.

    An alternative source of data is criminal justice statistics, but they are strongly affected by statistical, legal, criminal policy, and substantive factors (Aebi 2010; von Hofer 2000).

  9. 9.

    Currently, the data are collected by the INE through three questionnaires that collect the data included in the medical death certificates and the bulletins of deaths, judicially recorded deaths, and birth-related deaths(https://www.ine.es/dyngs/INEbase/es/operacion.htm?c=Estadistica_C&cid=1254736176780&menu=ultiDatos&idp=1254735573175 ).

  10. 10.

    The Movimiento Natura de la Población has been published by the following public institutions: Dirección General del Instituto Geográfico y Estadístico (General Direction of the Geographical and Statistical Institute) from 1910 to 1917; Dirección General de Estadística (General Direction of Statistics) from 1918 to 1923; Jefatura del Servicio General de Estadística (Head of the General Statistics Service) from 1924 to 1926; Dirección General del Instituto Geográfico, Catastral y de Estadística. ( General Direction of the geographical, cadastral and statistical institute) from 1927 to 1930; Subsecretaria de Trabajo y Acción social (Under Secretary of Labor and social action) in 1931 and 1932; Dirección General de Estadística (General Direction of Statistical) from 1933 to 1943; Instituto Nacional de Estadística (National Institut of Stadistics) since 1944.

  11. 11.

    The publication for the years 1942 and 1945 were not available and therefore the data for these 2 years was estimated using linear interpolation.

  12. 12.

    On the website of the INE, one can find the total number of homicides since 1980, but the disaggregated data by gender required for our analyses are available only upon written request.

  13. 13.

    According to our data, the percentage of infant victims out of all female homicide victims were between 11 and 0.2% in the 1930s, between 5.5 and 0% in the 1940s, between 17 and 2% in the 1950s, between 15 and 0% in the 1960s, between 6.5 and 0% in the 1970s, between 4 and 0% in the 1980s, between 4 and 0% in the 1990s, between 2 and 0% in the 2000s, and between 25% and 1% in the 2010s.

  14. 14.

    Data of victims of terrorist attacks are available in the Asociación Victimas del terrorismo (Association of victims of terrorism. Available online (last acceded on 16-06-2017) at: http://avt.org/victimas-del-terrorismo/

  15. 15.

    We are aware that there may be other long-term indicators than the ones used by Gartner et al. (1990) and Stamatel (2014), but either they are not available in Spain or they cannot be placed in a theoretical approach that would be relevant to explain female homicide victimization. The latter is the case, for example, of the inflation rates or drug use indicators, which were suggested by one of the anonymous reviewers of this paper.

  16. 16.

    The methodological report is available online (last acceded on 10-01-2018) at: http://www.ine.es/dynt3/metadatos/es/RespuestaDatos.htm?oe=30212

  17. 17.

    Before the period presented in Fig. 1, the only Spanish data available come from the judicial statistics published from 1855 to 1915, which cannot be directly compared with mortality statistics. They show that the level of homicide was quite high in the mid-1800 and had been decreasing rapidly during the second half of the nineteenth century (Eisner 2008, 2014).

  18. 18.

    The new law authorized divorce by the request of only one of the spouses after 3 months of the date of marriage (and without a period of previous separation of the spouses) instead of 1 year, and abolish the requirement of invoking a specific cause for divorce.

  19. 19.

    The correlation between the year trend variable and female homicide victimization is not significant for the period 1910–2014 because of the distortions in the data introduced by the inclusion of the victims of the Civil War.

  20. 20.

    According to the UNODC (2014: 12) “Eastern Asia, Southern, Europe and Western Europe are the subregions with the lowest homicide levels.” In 2012, the global average rate of homicides was 6.2 per 100,000 population. The highest rate was found in the Americas (16.3) followed by Africa (12.5), Europe and Oceania (3.0), and Asia (2.9), but in the subregions of Western and Southern Europe the rates were around 1 homicide per 100,000 population (UNODC 2014: 35). In 2014, the Spanish rate was 0.7 in 2014 (see Fig. 1).


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Fig. 8

Students enrolled in higher education institutions in Spain by sex, 1915/16–2014/5

Fig. 9

Marriage rate per 1000 population in Spain, 1910–2016

Table 2 Descriptive statistics
Table 3 Raw correlations between series
Table 4 Raw correlations for the period 1960–2014
Table 5 Homicide according to the ten revisions of the International classification of diseases (1900 to 1990)
Table 6 Victims of homicide in Spain by sex, 1910–2014

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Linde, A. Female Homicide Victimization in Spain from 1910 to 2014: the Price of Equality?. Eur J Crim Policy Res (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10610-019-09427-1

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  • Spain
  • Female homicide victimization
  • Verkko’s law
  • Non-gender sensitive approaches
  • Opportunity-based theories