Crime & Justice Policy

Research Highlight: Trends in the Lethality of American Violence

Letterpress letters spelling Highlight

Professor Mark Berg was recently published in the journal, Homicide Studies. His article, "Trends in the Lethality of American Violence," was part of a special issue edited by Drs. Richard Rosenfeld and James Alan Fox. This special issue focuses on the recent homicide rise in the United States. 

In his paper, Professor Berg discusses the lethality, or deadliness, of violence.  He examines how lethality rates have varied in the United States over time (1992-2016). According to Berg, homicide trend research could benefit by this shift in focus. While the frequency of disputes is important, so is the extent to which those disputes end in killings. Berg argued for an integration of social psychological models of aggression to understand trends in escalation. 

Berg used two sets of data in his research project. First, he used FBI data to estimate rates of homicide. Second, he used data from the National Crime Victimization Survey to compute survey-weighted, disaggregated rates of nonlethal disputes (serious disputes and robberies). He then calculated yearly estimates of the number of killings per 1,000 nonlethal disputes or lethality ratios. 

The results from Berg's study provide key insights into trends in violence. The findings show that the number of killings per nonlethal dispute have gradually increased from 1992 to 2016. In other words, lethality increased. The increase in lethality was particularly abrupt from 2014 to 2016. It seems that “the United States has become more peaceful, but its disputes have become deadlier” (Berg, 2019, p. 17). 

Berg also examines how lethality ratios vary across gender, race, and region. Additionally, he discusses the lethality of gun versus non-gun violence. For additional findings, see the full article. Other articles within the special issue are listed below. 

Professor Berg is the Director of the PPC’s Crime and Justice Policy Research Program and Associate Professor in the UI Department of Sociology. The UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies provided fellowship support for this research.

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Additional Articles from Special Issue: