Contemplate the history of homicide in the US

(Hat tip to Noah Smith.)

What is striking to me here is this weird double-humped shape and the huge variation in the amount of murder. Look at the spike from 1900 - 1934: the homicide rate went up about ten times! In fact, in the first decade of that period, it rose about five times. Prohibition can explain some of the rise in the 1920s, but clearly the real lift-off happened well before that: so what caused that rise?

Also of note: the "everything is getting better in every way" folks point to the recent drop in homicide as evidence supporting their thesis. But if you run your trend line back to 1900, that's not going to work, is it?


  1. I strongly suspect that the big jump between 1900 and 1910 is due to bad statistics rather than an actual phenomenon. It seems incredibly unlikely that the homicide rate quintupled in 4 years.

    Combine that intuition with the fact that the Bureau of Investigation was founded in 1908, and the parsimonious explanation seems to me to be that there were no accurate nationwide homicide statistics prior to about 1908 (whether they were immediately accurate from that point forward is another question one might ask).

    1. Possible. I looked around for more information on this period, but its buried in a lot of general discussion of crime rates over the century.

    2. Another possibility: 9 million immigrants in one decade.

    3. Yes, that was my guess, too.

      A lot of immigration 1900-1910, then a backlash in the 20's that restricted immigration.

      Then a loosening of policy 1965. Obviously it's a complicated question, no doubt a multitude of factors (a lot of 'loosening' happened in the 60's...), but those were the big things that jumped out at me.

      But that doesn't really explain the drop in the latter 90's.

  2. wasn't the KKK active in the early 1900's? Also what was the murder rate before 1900? was it always low, or did it fluctuate?

    1. Still researching, but it turns out it was *much* higher, higher even than the 20s peak, in previous centuries.


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