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Why did the U.S. homicide rate increase in early 1900s?

  1. Oct 9, 2015 #1
    The social sciences used to have their own forums in PF, what happened to them? They used to be a great lace for discussion. Anyways, this still seems the best place to ask this question.
    According to Wikipedia at least, the homicide rate in the U.S. per 100,000 persons increased from about 1.2 to 4.6 in the first decade of the 20th century. It looks like the most dramatic increase was during the years 1905 to 1907, where the rate went from 1.3 in 1905 to 4.9 in 1907. It looks like before that period U.S. homicide rates were fairly on par with the U.K., with rates barely over 1, but after that period U.S. homicide rates never again fell bellow 4. Is there a theory on why the sudden increase at that time specifically?
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  3. Oct 9, 2015 #2


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    Reporting? Definition?
  4. Oct 9, 2015 #3
    I could put forth my own hypothesis:
    1) Industrialization caused a lot of factory workers to get laid off
    2) Mechanization needed less farmers so former farmers moved to the cities
    3) Immigration from Europe happened in large numbers around this time, WWI didn't start until a decade later, but it had been building up for a while

    You had a lot of poor people in close quarters, that's always been and always will be a recipe for violence. Lots of these areas were non-white areas, so the government simply didn't care and preferred to add more police opposed to fixing the problems. That forced the people to protect themselves not only from each other, but the police itself became an enemy, so they formed gangs to protect themselves. Gangs fight.

    People also don't like change and are more susceptible to barbaric behavior if they think their world is being threatened. Industrialization, unions, women suffrage, freed slaves, communism... all threatened the status quo. The Klan was peaking at this time, I'm sure a lot of those murders were black people. Many of the government leaders were Klansmen. Mob-lead unions were peaking at this time. The communist party was also peaking at this time, the government murdered many of its leaders.
  5. Oct 9, 2015 #4
    I question this. I think industrialization created many new jobs. The problem, though, is that this attracted immigrants from all over the world. The sudden influx of waves of foreigners to U.S. cities might well have contributed to social stresses that elevated the homicide rate.

  6. Oct 9, 2015 #5


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    Yes, newjerseyrunner has that backwards.
    And workers from the farms. Either way, it increased city size/population density, which as you say caused social stress.
  7. Oct 9, 2015 #6
    Good point, but I have a counterpoint. Creating jobs doesn't necessarily exclude lots of people being laid off. Industrialization created white collar jobs, it laid off blue collar workers. A former white collar worker is capable of doing a blue collar job, not the other way around.

    A former office worker can work on an assembly line building tables, as can a former master woodworker. That woodworker however, can not do an office job as easily. You had a lot of people with special skills that were no longer relevant.

    Fair enough, industrialization created jobs, but it shifted the workforce, which is messy. We're sort of in the middle of this again with digitilization. I have no doubt that long term, the computerization of the work force will create more jobs, but in the interm, uneducated people are going to have a rough decade or so.
  8. Oct 9, 2015 #7
    No. It created scores of blue collar jobs that never existed before. Consider auto assembly lines, and the masses of other factory jobs that never previously existed because the products never previously existed.
  9. Oct 9, 2015 #8
    Fair enough, but consider the textile industry. A factory full of laborers with looms were replaced with scores of automated sewing machines.

    Remember, we didn't go from a pre-industrial age, to rolling cars off of assembly lines, there were a few decades in between where all of that infrastructure had to be built.

    I retract what I said about industrialization eliminating jobs, it simply shifted the jobs from one kind to another and people don't like change.
  10. Oct 9, 2015 #9
    Yes, where I grew up, New England, was hit by a huge wave of French Canadian immigrants starting about 1900, who came down to work in the new textile mills that were springing up all over the place. It completely changed the population and culture. Stephen King, for example, the famous Maine author, is named Stephan, and not Steven, due to French Canadian cultural influences in his home town.
  11. Oct 9, 2015 #10
    Yes, I was thinking that industrialization, immigration, and urbanization might have something to do with it, but I believe that except for immigration the U.K. was experiencing simular flux, but their homicide rates seems to remain flat, and even trended down during the following decade, while the U.S.s rates remained relativity high after 1906. I don't know if guns could be the cause, as it seems that gun ownership rates and technology probably wouldn't have changed much between 1900 and 1910.
    Here are the rates from Wikipedia, (I should have shown them earlier for perspective), but it seems that something dramatic happened in the U.S. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate_by_decade
    Country 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906 1907 1908 1909
    23px-US_flag_46_stars.svg.png United States [3] 1.2 1.2 1.2 1.1 1.3 2.1 3.9 4.9 4.8 4.6
    23px-Flag_of_England.svg.png England, 23px-Flag_of_Wales_2.svg.png Wales[4] 0.96

    Country 1910 1911 1912 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919
    23px-US_flag_48_stars.svg.png United States [3] 4.6 5.5 5.4 6.1 6.2 5.9 6.3 6.9 6.5 7.2
    23px-Flag_of_England.svg.png England, 23px-Flag_of_Wales_2.svg.png Wales[4] 0.81
  12. Oct 9, 2015 #11
    Am I reading the chart wrong or is there no data for England from 1901 ->1909, and from 1911->1919?
  13. Oct 9, 2015 #12
    Maybe I'm reading it wrong. I assumed what it meant was that the rates were relatively flat throughout the decade. Anyways it shows that in 1900 the rate was .96, and in 1910 it was .81. I'm thinking you can interpolate, and it shows a totally different trend than the U.S. rates.
    I wish I could find better data, but this is the best and most comprehensive that I've been able to find. Also It would be nice if I could find rates throughout the 1800s, but its proving difficult.
  14. Oct 9, 2015 #13
    There's a very interesting spike right at the year 1920-1921, exactly when prohibition started and organized crime began to flourish.
  15. Oct 9, 2015 #14


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    So, maybe it was reporting after all:

    Industrialization is tough as a reason because it didn't happen quite so suddenly and started a hundred years earlier.
  16. Oct 9, 2015 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    Let me say this again. Before determining why something is true, it is important to determine if it is true.

    The homicide rates from 1900 to 1904 averaged 2.4 per 100,000, not the 1.2 that is claimed. (Source: "Mortality Statistics 1900 to 1904", Special Report by the Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census.) This document also makes the point that counting homicides is surprisingly difficult, as causes of deaths will specify "gunshot wound' but not whether this was accidental, suicide or homicide. Indeed, the category of "Other external violence" (which excludes accidents, suicides and homicides) is three times larger than homicides.

    By 1905 ("Mortality Statistics 1905, ibid), the homicide rate had doubled to 4.6, but the "Other external violence" rate had halved to 3.8.

    So it appears to me that a) the numbers in Wikipedia are just wrong - they don't match the original source (and their source is a Wayback snapshot of a CDC summary of previous CDC summary of the actual primary source), and b) the numbers in Wikipedia are meaningless, as what is and what is not categorized as a homicide appears to change with time.
  17. Oct 22, 2015 #16


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    My understanding was the wave of French Canadian immigration to the US took place between 1840 up until the Great Depression of the 1930's (this is excluding those French-speaking communities that predate this immigrant wave, like the French Canadian communities in Michigan and Minnesota and the French Creole and Cajun communities in Louisiana). A similar migration of French Canadians migrated out of Quebec into the neighbouring province of Ontario around that period, leading to the formation of the Franco-Ontarian community.

    Here is a Wikipedia article regarding the Quebec diaspora (the French Canadian immigration to the US largely originated from Quebec):

  18. Oct 22, 2015 #17
    Labor unrest?
  19. Oct 22, 2015 #18


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    Here is a paper on it that back what Russ and V50 posted, it was a change in reporting.

  20. Oct 22, 2015 #19
    I don't know what to tell you. When my grandparents generation came down from Canada to work in the mills, there were no French Canadians already there in that region. The locals were British Yankees and there was a sharp delineation between the two cultures. Maybe the towns of Holyoke, Lowell, Manchester, Woonsockett, etc. had older French Canadian populations from the 1840's, but we were not aware of them. As far as I knew, all the French Canadians in all the small towns around us with textile mills had come down at the same time as my grandparents. All the people my grandparent's age had thick French Canadian accents. People my parents age spoke fluent English, but could converse in French with the older ones. My generation was raised completely in English and couldn't speak French.
  21. Oct 23, 2015 #20


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    I suppose this would be dependent on what part of New England you and your family were from. Perhaps those towns you mentioned, or towns in up-state New York or Vermont that border Quebec had the earlier French Canadian populations?

    BTW, as an aside, my great-great-grandmother was of French Canadian descent via Michigan, but I'm not certain if her family was descended from the earliest French Canadian colonists dating back to the time of New France (of which Michigan was a part, first settling in Quebec from France, and then migrating to the Michigan settlements around the 18th century) or descended from the later wave of immigrants that arrived during the 19th century, similar to those who settled in New England.
  22. Oct 23, 2015 #21
    The wiki article you linked to says they did. I don't know those towns and we had no relatives in them. We knew there were French Canadians all over New England but our perception was that they'd all come down at the same time as my grandparents. That wiki article is the first mention I ever heard of any earlier waves of immigration.

    All I'm saying is that any large population movements from French Canada to New England before 1900 is news to me. I'm not asserting it didn't happen.
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