Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Homicide rate distorted by survival of victims

In June I argued that modern medical developments were changing the costs of war and hampering our ability to compare modern wars with historical ones. This is because soldiers who would have died in the past are now treated with high-tech medicine and surviving. As a result, the deaths to wounded ratio of American soldiers in the Iraq War (1:7.3) is totally different to that of soldiers in World War II (1:1.65).

In the comments section I suggested that this could have implications for homicide statistics too. As emergency medical responses improve, violent assaults should become less deadly. Even if the number of attacks remain the same, the number of attacks proving fatal should decline.

So when we compare countries by homicide rate, we need to remember that. The very same assault that kills someone in a poor, underdeveloped country could be treated and leave the victim alive in a rich country. Pondering this, I turned to Gapminder to compare life expectancy with murder per 100,000 people for 2005:

An incredibly clear correlation. As life expectancy rises, murder rates fall. There are lots of ways to interpret this - countries with higher life expectancy tend to be richer and can perhaps expect a more functional society with less poverty and unrest for example - but it does seem to support my suggestion that some declines in homicide rates are caused by the survival of victims.

This makes any increase in homicide rates in developed countries more disturbing, since it shows that murders are increasing even while victims are more likely to survive. The natural trend for homicides should be downwards, as victims are treated with ever-improving medical technology.

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