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Racial Inequality and Racially Disaggregated Homicide Rates: An Assessment of Alternative Theoretical Explanations

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 30 Issue: 3 Dated: (1992) Pages: 421-442
S F Messner; R M Golden
Date Published
22 pages
Data from 154 cities were used to analyze the relationship between levels of racial inequality and homicide rates, including both total rates and rates that were disaggregated by the racial characteristics of victims and offenders.
The theoretical literature has suggested four causal explanations that imply distinctive relationships between racial inequality and criminal violence: (1) social disorganization/anomie, (2) relative deprivation/frustration, (3) relative gratification/reduced aggression, and (4) macrostructural opportunity. The research used homicide data for 1980-84 and 1980 census data on median family income, years of schooling, unemployment levels, and residential segregation. Twelve additional characteristics were used as control variables. Findings produced some support for the relative deprivation/frustration hypothesis. However, the theoretical explanation that is most compatible with the full range of results was the social disorganization/anomie explanation. Thus, racial inequality evidently affects the social order in some general way that increases criminogenic pressures on the entire population. Tables, footnotes, and 47 references


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