NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

South's Homicide Rates Lead The Nation

July 26, 1998

The murder rate in the United States has dropped dramatically in the past few years, but there are wide regional variations in the homicide rate, say experts. For as long as records have been kept, southern states have had by far the highest murder rates in the country -- currently, they are almost double those in the Northeast.

Moreover, the character of murder in the South differs from homicides in the rest of the nation, experts report.

  • Led by Louisiana -- with a rate of 17.5 murders per 100,000 population in 1996 -- the South's murder rate was almost double that of the Northeast.
  • The ten states with the lowest homicide rates are in New England and the northern Midwest -- with South Dakota the lowest at 1.2 murders per 100,000.
  • Southern murders are usually of a personal or traditional nature -- stemming from barroom brawls, a quarrel between acquaintances or a fight between lovers.
  • Elsewhere, murders typically involve strangers and usually start with another crime -- a robbery gone bad, for example.

High Southern homicide rates challenge the popularly-held belief that murders are highest in densely populated urban areas where crowding and poverty break down traditional social ties and values. Southern homicides have been typically rural.

While the U.S. has more murders than other, comparable countries, it does not necessarily have more crime. For instance, England has a higher rate of burglary, France has a higher rate of auto thefts, and the Netherlands and Australia have about the same total crime rate as the U.S.

Source: Fox Butterfield, "Why America's Murder Rate is So High," New York Times, July 26, 1998.


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