U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Inequality, Welfare State, and Homicide: Further Support for the Institutional Anomie Theory

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 38 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2000 Pages: 1021-1042
Jukka Savolainen
Date Published
November 2000
22 pages
This research examined the institutional anomie theory of sociological criminology and tested the hypothesis that the positive effect of economic inequality on the level of lethal violence is limited to countries with relatively weak collective institutions of social protection.
The institutional anomie theory asserts that the stratification of legitimate economic opportunities affects how the anomic pressures inherent in the dream of personal financial success channel into criminal behavior. The research tested the hypothesis that economic inequality is a strong determinant of the national homicide rates in societies with weak institutions of social protection, but should not be an important predictor among the more collectivist countries. The research used two complementary sets of cross-national data. The primary data source was the sample from Messner and Rosenfeld’s 1997 study and included information from the World Health Organization, information from the International Labor Organization, and other sources for 1980-1990. The supplementary data came from a different set of countries. The research estimated the multivariate models using ordinary least-squares regression. Results in both settings revealed a negative interaction effect between economic inequality and the strength of the welfare state. Countries that protected their citizens from the vicissitudes of market forces appeared to be immune to the homicidal effects of economic inequality. Results revealed that each of the estimated interaction terms between an indicator of economic inequality and the strength of the welfare state was negative. The analysis concluded that the size of the population living significantly below a country’s normative standard of economic wellbeing may be the crucial characteristic that explains the inequality effect in cross-national criminology. Thus, findings supported the institutional anomie theory. Tables and 27 references (Author abstract modified)