Homicides

Notice: This is only a preliminary collection of relevant material

The data and research currently presented here is a preliminary collection or relevant material. We will further develop our work on this topic in the future (to cover it in the same detail as for example our entry on World Population Growth).

If you have expertise in this area and would like to contribute, apply here to join us as a researcher.

This article deals with intentional homicides which are defined as “an unlawful death deliberately inflicted on one person by another person”.1 This data is typically presented as the homicide rate expressed as homicides per 100,000 inhabitants of a country or region.

Homicides refer to interpersonal violence. Civilian and military deaths during interstate wars, civil wars and genocides are not counted as homicides – but Our World in Data presents the evidence on deaths in the linked articles.

Homicide rates around the world

Homicide rates

This map shows homicide rates globally, measured as the number per 100,000 people from two different sources.

The data is published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s International Homicide Statistics.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) also publishes global data on homicide rates and we visualize this data here.

Number of homicide deaths

This visualisation shows the annual number of deaths from homicide by country in the recent past, from 1990 onwards.

The long-run perspective on homicides

Europe

Eisner (2003) describes the secular trend of homicide rates in Europe and has collected data for this research paper. From his database Eisner constructed data for several European regions and presented this in a table. Using estimates from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), we have extended this dataset through to 2016. European homicide rates have dramatically decreased over the last millennium and have remained steadily low over the past 50 years. Italy has historically had higher homicide rates than other European countries, but today those rates have reached Northern European levels.

The long-term raw data without distinguishing between different states is visualized in the chart here.2

Differences across Europe

The declining homicides in some regions and stagnating high homicides in other regions caused a huge inequality in violence in the 19th century as can be seen in the black and white map comparing homicides rates between 1880 and 2000. Over the course of the last century this picture has changed: the south of Europe has followed northwestern Europe and now has similarly low violence. The convergence between the northwest and the south of Europe can be seen in the case of Italy in the line chart.

The remaining inequality is now between a more violent Eastern Europe and a less violent Western Europe. The map of more recent subnational data shows this clearly.

Homicide rates in Europe, c. 1880 and 2000 – Eisner (2003)3
homicide-rates-in-europe-map
Homicide rates in five Western European countries, 1900-2009 – Pinker (2011)
Homicide-rates-in-five-Western-European-countries-1900–-2009-Pinker-2011.jpg

The homicide rate in Japan

Homicide rates in Japan have steadily decreased over the past century, as shown in this graph.

It’s interesting to note that the homicide rate in Japan dropped significantly during and immediately after World War II, perhaps because the nation was focused on the war effort.

Homicide Rate (including homicide attempts) in Japan, 1888-2003 – Johnson (2006)4
The-Homicide-Rate-in-Japan-1888-–-2003-Johnson-2006.png

The homicide rate in the USA

Long-run view of New England

The homicide rate in the US has fallen dramatically over the past few centuries. The first chart shows the fall in the homicide rate in relation to various armed conflicts in New England. In the early colonial days in America, the homicide rate was incredibly high. But as the colonies became more established and orderly, the rate fell, except for the time during the American Revolution when the colonies were understandably amidst upheaval. It’s important to note that one cannot directly derive from this graph a causal relationship between these conflicts and the homicide rate.

The second chart shows the disparity in homicide rates between various areas in present day New England. Predictably, the more urban areas of new York, Boston and Philadelphia have in general had higher homicide rates than the less dense states of Vermont and New Hampshire.

European American adult homicide rate (per 100,000 persons per year) in New England, 1630-1800 – Roth (2009)5
New-England-European-American-Adult-Homicide-Rate-1630 –-1800-Roth-2009.png
Homicide rates in the northeastern United States, 1636-1900 – Pinker (2011)6
Homicide-rates-in-the-northeastern-United-States-1636–1900-Pinker-2011.jpg

Homicide rates in US are high compared to other rich countries

Homicide rates in the US have been much higher than in many other industrialized countries.

In this charts, we can see that in the 1960s and 1970s, the US, Canada and Australia all experienced increases in the rate of homicides, but the increase in the US was much larger than in the other two nations. These rates have since fallen in the US, but homicides are still much more common there than in Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or indeed many other countries – you can add more to this interactive chart.

Global long run perspective

The interactive chart here allows to visualise the long-term trend of homicides for countries around the world. Time coverage varies between countries – for some countries data is available going back to 1800 while for other countries data for only 1 or 2 years are available.

Who are the perpetrators and victims of homicide?

Homicide deaths by age

The visualization here shows the annual number of deaths from homicide, differentiated by age bracket.

This data can be viewed for any country using the “change country” option in the interactive chart.

Most victims globally are between 15 and 49 years old.

Homicide rates by age

This visualization shows homicide rates by age bracket. This data can be viewed for any country using the “change country” option in the interactive chart.

Child homicides

According to UNICEF every 7 minutes somewhere in the world, an adolescent is killed by an act of violence. The map here shows homicide rates for children 0-19 years old, country by country.

As can be seen, there are huge regional differences. In 2015, the homicide rate in Latin America and the Caribbean was almost five times higher than the global average.

The age of violent offenders

Similarly, the age distribution of violent offenders is not uniform, either. This graph shows this distribution for various time periods and European regions.

Age distribution of violent offenders across time and space – Eisner (2003)7
Age-distribution-of-violent-offenders-across-time-and-space-Eisner-2003.png

Homicide and gender

Kellermann and Mercy (1992)8 studied 215,273 homicides in the United States between 1976 and 1987. In line with the results presented above only 14.7% of the homicides were commited by women. Similarly unequal was the distribution of gender among the victims. The study found that 77% of the 215.273 victims were men.

The UNODC Homicide statistic 2012 has global data on the gender of the sex of homicide victims.

The table shows the percentage of female offenders for various regions throughout history.

Female offenders as a percentage of all offenders in various historical studies – Eisner (2003)9
RegionAssaultRobberyHomicideProperty CrimeSource
Fourteenth–sixteenth centuries:
England, 1202–76--8.6-Given (1977, p. 48)
England, various counties, 1300–1348-5.179.8Hanawalt (1979, p. 118)
Cracau, 1361–140511.0*10Schüssler (1998, p. 313)
Zurich, 1376–851.4--4Burghartz (1990, p. 80)
Avignon, 137221.0†--23.7Chiffoleau (1984, p. 250)
Arras, 1400–143613.7‡ 4.6§---Muchembled (1992, pp. 34, 89)
Constance, 1430–604.7-.0*17.2Schuster (2000, p. 71)
Douai, 1496–1519--1-Fouret (1984)
Amsterdam, 1490–155214-315Boomgaard (1992)
Arras, 1528–495--20Muchembled (1992, pp. 34, 89)
Brussels, 1500–16008.2--7.4Vanhemelryck (1981, p. 314)
Cologne, 1568–16124.44.75.7*22.9Schwerhoff (1995, p. 91)
Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries:
Rural areas near Trier, late 16th to early 18th centuries12.34.53.7*5.2Lacour (2000, p. 535)
Castile, 1623–991.4*Chaulet (1997, p. 17)
Bavaria, 1600–16494.5-2.9*12.4Behringer (1995, p. 65)
Bavaria, 1685–895.04.5*13.2Behringer (1995, p. 67)
Surrey, 1663–180218.27.91323.9Beattie (1975, p. 81)
Leiden, 1678–17947.841#5.5*47.3Kloek (1990, p. 8)
Gent, 1700–178910.2--24.6Roets (1982)
Stockholm, 1708–1841-4367Andersson (1995)
Alençon, northern France, 1715–4520--33.5Champin (1972)
Armagh, Ireland, 1736–956.5-7.69.7Garnham (1996)
Neuchatel, 1707–18066.2--14.7Henry (1984, p. 660)
Nice, 1736–92--3-Eleuche-Santini (1979)
Rural northern Germany, 1680–17953.5--18.5Frank (1995, p. 235)
Late nineteenth-century Germany8-16-von Mayr (1917, p. 754)
Late twentieth century:
England and Wales, 199714.78.511.9*23Home Office (1998)
Italy, 1998166.95.215.2Istituto Nazionale di Statistica (2000)
Germany, 1997127.510.0*23Bundeskriminalamt (1998)
United States, 19971581032Federal Bureau of Investigation (1998)

Data, Quality & Definitions

Comparisons of recent estimates

Data quality for long historical estimates

There are two very different sources for historical data on homicide rates depending on the era discussed. For the last few decades, statistical offices have recorded homicide rates as part of the vital statistics. Eisner (2003) notes that “in most European countries, data series start during the second half of the nineteenth century, although Swedish national death statistics were introduced in the middle of the eighteenth century”.

For earlier historical periods, researchers have reconstructed the long-term changes in homicide rates from historical records that often originated from some form of legal documentation of the crimes. Although there are gaps in the reconstructed data, and there are uncertainties in both the number of homicides and the size of the population, the historical record is more complete than one might assume. One reason for this is the great social importance of these crimes. Violent killings were of concern for a long time, and they were therefore often reliably registered. In some cases, or for prehistoric times, it is additionally possible to use the insights from forensic archaeologists, who can determine the causes of death from skeletal remains.

Data Sources

Historical sources

The ‘Historical Violence Database’ Data on violence from medieval times to the present, mainly in Western Europe and the US, has been collected in the ‘Historical Violence Database’ at the Ohio State University. In addition to homicide rates for many countries this database also includes qualitative information – among much more inforamtion also on the place and the cause of death and on the victim and the perpetrator.
The website can be found here: Historical Violence Database at Ohio State University

Homicide Data in the Post-War Time

  • The World Health Organization presents data since 1950 here.
  • The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has more recent data for more than 200 countries here.

For the USA there is data available from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And there is the National Violent Death Reporting System at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in Atlanta, Georgia that has detailed data here.

Recent homicide estimates

Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), Global Burden of Disease (GBD)
  • Data: Death rates & absolute number of deaths from homicide
  • Geographical coverage:Global, across all regions and countries
  • Time span:Available from 1990 onwards
  • Available at: Online here