STUMP » Articles » Comparing Murder Rates: Fact Check » 18 July 2016, 18:08

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Comparing Murder Rates: Fact Check  


18 July 2016, 18:08

Happy meep-back-from-vacation!

Let’s talk murder statistics!


The reason I’m doing this is I saw this headline:

Stats wiz Nate Silver: For black Americans, US is about as dangerous as Rwanda

Hmmm, I’m doubtful. Let’s go a little deeper than that:

For black and white americans, the difference between life and death is literally worlds apart. Although we may know this on some level, Nate Silver, the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight, has the startling statistics that demonstrate this reality.

As he explained to me on the latest episode of The Katie Halper Show, “If you’re a white person your chance of being murdered every year is 2.5 out of 10,000… If you’re a black person it’s 19.4, so almost eight times higher.”

To put this into context, Silver explained, the murder rate for white Americans is similar to the murder rate for people living in Finland, Chile or Israel. The murder rate for black Americans, on the other hand, is similar to the rate found “in developing countries that are war zones even, like Myanmar, or Rwanda, Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, places that have vast disorder. To me that stat was so striking that I thought this was a case where even if you kinda zoomed out, that was a data point that helped to inform the discussion.”

Is this true?

Let’s check!


There are a variety of data sources on murder stats.

The CDC is my go-to site for all things mortality. Hmm, this is interesting: Leading Causes of Death Contributing to Decrease in Life Expectancy Gap Between Black and White Populations: United States, 1999–2013

The gap in life expectancy
between the black and white
populations decreased 2.3 years
between 1999 and 2013 (5.9 to
3.6 years).

The decrease in the gap was
due to larger decreases in death
rates for the black population for
heart disease, cancer, and HIV

Great news! And did you know that Hispanic men have a higher life expectancy than non-Hispanic white men in the U.S.?

But that’s not about murder. And, just an FYI, while the cause of death for young black men (age 20-34) is homicide at a rate higher than other groups, it’s not the predominant cause of death for black men in general. Just like the wider population, the top two causes of death for black men is heart disease and cancer.

But let’s find those murder stats.

Here’s some murder stats, and here are murder victims broken out by Age, Sex, Race, and Ethnicity, 2014. I’m going to combine that with population estimates for July 1, 2014 to get my murder rates. The stats identifying hispanic ethnicity aren’t very good, so we’ll just stick to the white/black distinction (even though many of the white people will be hispanic).

Total murders: 11,961
Total population: 319 million
Murder rate: 3.75 per 100K

This is a little low compared to other stats I’ve seen, but whatever.

White victim murder rate: 2.19 per 100K
Black victim murder rate: 14.45 per 100K

Ratio of white rate to total population rate: 0.58x
Ratio of black rate to total population rate: 3.85x
Ratio of black rate to white rate: 6.60x

These are within spitting distance of Nate Silver’s stats.

Of course, the data I have are by age and race. I can’t split out the teen rate very well, but in general, age 20-24 has the highest murder rates at 9.51 per 100K, and the lowest rates are for those over age 70 at 1.34 per 100K…. probably because heart disease and cancer are killing them first.

But when you split out the age groupings by race, yeah, it’s bad.

Blacks have a homicide rate of 38.32 per 100K for age grouping 20-24, and it’s just 4.24 per 100K for whites of the same age. I bet if I could carve it down to black men, the rate would be even higher.

Mind you, though: 38.32 per 100K is the same as 0.04%. That’s high for that age group (not many people die at age 20-24, of any race), but it’s not high compared to those over age 70.

Here’s a graph:

Stats are here.


I got murder stats from this site, which is up to 2012.

Now, this has much higher murder rate estimates and murder counts than the FBI data. So maybe everything is a little high. This is estimating a murder rate of 4.7 per 100K for the U.S.

If we assume a similar ratio between black murder rates and the overall, then using these stats, I’m looking for a rate of 2.7 per 100K to have something comparable for whites, and something like 18.1 per 100K to have something for blacks.

Let’s check the countries Nate Silver mentions:
Comparable to whites? (2.7 per 100K)
Finland: 1.6
Chile: 3.1
Israel: 1.8

That last one is interesting, given terrorism.

Comparable to blacks? (18.1 to 100K)
Myanmar: 15.2
Rwanda: 23.1
Mexico: 21.5
Brazil: 25.2
Nigeria: 20.0

So, I guess if we’re just talking order of magnitude, Silver gets kind of close. But the murder rate in Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, and Rwanda are noticeably higher than the overall black murder rate, no matter which of my estimates you use.

The white comparisons… well, it’s spitting distance, but they’re not all that close.

Anyway, for a rough estimate, Silver is not too far wrong.

And some of the murder rates are really horrid in the U.S.

But damn about Brazil. We’re supposed to be having the Olympics there?

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