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Poverty, Inequality, and City Homicide Rates: Some Not So Unexpected Findings
  • William C. Bailey, Cleveland State University
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Messner's recent investigation of homicide and relative and absolute economic deprivation is replicated here, but cities rather than SMSA's and three years (1950, 1960, 1970) rather than one (1970) are considered. Because of tremendous intra-unit variation for SMSAs with respect to homicides and sociodemographic characteristics (an important variation that is masked when data are aggregated on a SMSA level), cities are a preferable unit of analysis in cross-sectional investigations of homicide. Where Messner found a significant negative relationship between percentage of poverty (absolute deprivation) and homicides, I consistently find the opposite pattern as predicted. In both studies, however, there is only a slight and nonsignificant relationship between relative economic deprivation (income inequality) and homicides. Unlike Messner, however, I do not consider this finding surprising. At best, there is only a weak theoretical linkage between homicide and relative economic deprivation. Accordingly, the results of this investigation for both absolute and relative deprivation are neither “perplexing” nor do they warrant the “serious reconsideration of the linkages between poverty, inequality and the homicide rate” that Messner (1982: 112) calls for.

Citation Information
Bailey W. C. (1984), Poverty, inequality, and city homicide rates. Criminology, 22(4), 531–550. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1984.tb00314.x