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Cross-National Homicide Trends in the Latter Decades of the Twentieth Century: Losses and Gains in Institutional Control?

  • Steven F. Messner
  • Benjamin Pearson-Nelson
  • Lawrence E. Raffalovich
  • Zachary Miner
Chapter

Abstract

This study explores cross-national trends in homicide rates over the 1950–2005 period. At a descriptive level, we apply spline regression to address the following questions: How prevalent were appreciable, sustained increases or decreases in levels of homicide? Among nations characterized by increasing or decreasing homicide levels, how prevalent were reversals in the trends, suggesting homicide cycles? Which nations exhibited homicide cycles, and what can be learned from the timing of increases, decreases, and reversals in homicide levels? Our second overarching objective is to assess Gary LaFree’s hypothesis that national trends in crime reflect changes in the legitimacy of the basic institutions of a society. We focus on the institution that traditionally has been assigned primary responsibility for informal control—the family. The results of our spline regression analyses indicate that sustained, substantial increases in lethal violence were virtually universal in the latter decades of the twentieth century for the sampled nations. At the same time, the majority of nations that exhibited an appreciable upturn in homicide rates also exhibited a distinct turnaround, suggestive of homicide cycles. With respect to the timing of the phases of homicide cycles, we observe that Nordic and northern European nations were in the vanguard for increasing homicides, whereas Central/South American and Caribbean nations exhibited a rise in homicides decades later. Finally, the results of fixed-effects regression models for the pooled, cross-sectional time-series dataset reveal that the divorce rate is a significant, robust predictor of homicide rates, which is supportive of LaFree’s arguments concerning institutional legitimacy, institutional control, and changes in levels of crime.

Keywords

Gross Domestic Product Divorce Rate Spline Regression Homicide Rate Informal Social Control 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Susanne Karstedt, Christoph Birkel, and an anonymous reviewer for comments on earlier drafts of this chapter.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven F. Messner
    • 1
  • Benjamin Pearson-Nelson
    • 2
  • Lawrence E. Raffalovich
    • 1
  • Zachary Miner
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity at Albany, S. U. N. Y.AlbanyUSA
  2. 2.Indiana University-Purdue UniversityFort WayneUSA
  3. 3.University of Albany, S.U.N.Y.AlbanyUSA

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