Comparing violence

23/07/2012 § 3 Comments

Kieran Healy posted an amazing graph over the weekend*. It showed the assault deaths per 100,000 people in several OECD countries. He also helpfully posted the individual countries’ series; I’ve cropped out the ones from the United States and New Zealand:

The scales on both graphs are the same, so the peak on the US graph is nearly 10, while the NZ peak brushes 2. Both have fallen in the last couple of decades. They confirm something I’ve noticed about living in New Zealand.

I was a teenager and young adult in the US in the 1980s, just after the peak and while rates were still high. That’s when I moved from being mainly at school and at home to being out in the world. Washington, DC at the time was the murder capital of the nation, and Richmond, VA was having its own spike in violent crime. That’s the environment in which I learned to judge situations and strangers, when I calibrated my danger sensors.

Those sensors are badly mis-calibrated for New Zealand. As a whole, people here are less pushy and aggressive than the US. It is one of those things I’ve had to learn about living here — situations that might spiral into shouting, chest thumping, shoving and worse over there just seem to sort themselves out here.

It also appears from these graphs like people in both countries might be less aggressive than they used to be. My mis-calibration may not be just the place but also the time.

Do I have any theories? Two come to mind. First, Kiwis are proud of their ‘she’ll be right’ attitude. Most of the time, things do work out. So, the feedback loop reinforces that perspective. Any potential trouble can be brushed aside with the idea that things will work out alright. A second theory is that the US is more competitive. As a result, it is more important to ‘win’ any given encounter — the other guy is an opponent and must be bested. This is true whether it is a parking space, a customer service issue, contract negotiations, or an actual competition. New Zealand tends to be more egalitarian. In any encounter, you give a little and get a little, and everyone comes out alright.

I do realise that the graphs are just for one specific statistic, and that there are many factors affecting the level of assault deaths (availability of weapons, demographics, health care). Nevertheless, this one statistic does seem to confirm my more general experiences with the two countries.

*Healy’s post was prompted by the mass shooting in Colorado over the weekend. I haven’t commented on the event, because I don’t have anything helpful to say.


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§ 3 Responses to Comparing violence

  • JC says:

    I think you are extrapolating regional effects to a whole nation, ie, Washington, Detroit, Chicago and other urban environments are notorious murder spots in the US with Flyover country notorious for being boring and peaceful with very low killing rates.

    NZ happens to be a regional area with low killing rates, low population, agricultural.. and world record non killing crime. Unlike the US we are egalitarian and prefer to spread non fatal crime misery as widely as possible.


  • JC says:

    Ah, the Yanks are amateurs at this game.. only 50 massacre events since 1982, NZ has had 6, and scaled up by a factor of 70 to compare populations we have had 420!


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