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Lighting and Homicides: Evaluating the Effect of an Electrification Policy in Rural Brazil on Violent Crime Reduction



This study estimates the effects of lighting on homicides in rural areas of developing countries.


We use an IV strategy by exploring the LUZ PARA TODOS or Light for All (LPT) program that was adopted by the federal government to expand electrification to rural areas in Brazilian municipalities in the 2000s as an exogenous source of variations in access to electricity.


Our results indicate a significant decrease in homicide rates in municipalities the Northeast region, which is the poorest region of the country and most affected by the policy expansion. We estimate that helping a municipality increase from zero electricity coverage to full coverage reduces homicide rates by 92 per 100,000 inhabitants. This is equivalent to moving a municipality that is at the 99th percentile to the median (zero) of the crime distribution across municipalities. In addition, we perform placebo exercises using sub-samples of predominantly urban municipalities. The results increase our confidence in the IV strategy since our primary results were from areas with a larger percentage of rural population, as should be expected by the policy.


This study contributes to the extant literature by investigating the effects of lighting on homicides in a different context, rural areas of a developing country (Brazil).

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  1. 1.

    Berg and Lauritsen (2016) mention the problems of using police report data in the US.

  2. 2.

  3. 3.

  4. 4.

    See Clarke and Weisburd (1994) regarding the benefits of controlling crime.

  5. 5.

    Another important issue is situational crime prevention (Clarke and Felson 1993; Felson 1994). Prevention techniques seek to decrease the number of suitable victims and increase the presence of control and guardians at all times. We understand that electrification per se is not a prevention technique to avoid crime. However, electrification influences the environment of crime. The line of separation between the theories is not clear cut.

  6. 6.

    Studies regarding criminology attribute the foundation of RCT to Cornish and Clarke (1986). However, Loughran et al. (2016) claims that Becker (1968) was the founding author.

  7. 7.

    The rational choice for individual j can be calculated by the equation: E(Uj) = pjUj(Yj − fj) + (1 − pj)U(Yj); where E(Uj) represents the individual’s expected utility of crime (j); p represents the probability of detection; Yj represents the benefits that the individual obtains after a successful crime; and f represents the severity of the sanction that the individual receives if he/she is apprehended.

  8. 8.

    A contextual level includes the publicity of the sanction, police visibility, and sanction enforcement (prescribed punishment) and affects the risk perception of an individual and potential criminal behavior (Apel 2013).

  9. 9.

    The evidence of individuals’ risk perception regarding crime is negative and weak (see the overview in Apel 2013).

  10. 10.

    The effect on crime is not homogenous for different groups of society. Clearly, this effect is dominant for male youth.

  11. 11.

    Fajnzylber et al. (2002b) estimate that a one percentage point increase in the growth rate of income per capita is associated with a 2.4% decline in homicide rates.

  12. 12.

    Finan and Ferraz (2011) describe the importance of the radio as the mechanism that described the punishment of a corrupt mayor in Brazil.

  13. 13.

  14. 14. See Cerqueira (2010).

  15. 15.

    Controlling for the population and specific groups within the population is highly important in studies regarding crime. See Chalfin and McCrary (2012a) and Levitt (1998a, b).

  16. 16.

    It is unclear whether police officers work for the municipal, state or federal government inside the municipality. Brazil has municipal, state, and federal police. Therefore, we consider in our measure, all individuals who are registered as police officers inside the municipality.

  17. 17.

    The working adult population is defined as all individuals who are 18 years old or older and occupied as paid employees, non-paid-employees, self-employed, or receiving subsistence.

  18. 18.

    All figures are constructed using Calonico et al.’s (2014) methodology.

  19. 19.

    Table 8 in the “Appendix” provides the IV results with only observable controls (non-significant) and the reduced form between our instrument variable (electrification criterion2000 * Year dummy (2010)) and homicides (positive and significant at 10% level).


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Correspondence to Paulo Arvate.



See Tables 6, 7, 8 and 9 and Figs. 3 and 4.

Table 6 First-stage results—different regions
Table 7 First-stage results Placebo—different sub-sample for the percentage of population in rural areas
Table 8 Lighting and homicides by Place of Death—Brazil
Table 9 Other mechanisms—Northeast

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Arvate, P., Falsete, F.O., Ribeiro, F.G. et al. Lighting and Homicides: Evaluating the Effect of an Electrification Policy in Rural Brazil on Violent Crime Reduction. J Quant Criminol 34, 1047–1078 (2018).

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  • Homicide
  • Lighting
  • Hospital homicide data
  • Rural areas
  • Brazil

JEL Classification

  • O10
  • O18
  • K42