The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has been compiling statistics on crime in America for several decades. On the BJS web site one can find tools that allow them to generate tables using the compiled data. The majority of the data relates to major violent crimes; murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. One can find data on property crimes and some other non-violent crimes. Using the tools available it becomes possible to compare the trends of the four major violent crimes as they relate to each other and the overall rate of violent crime. Comparing these trends shows that crime in the U.S. has been declining for years regardless of the increase in population. The major contributing factor to the decline of violent crime appears to be the age of the population and not the enactment of current legislation; thus, the decrease in the rate of forcible rape is also contributed to the same factors.
As can be seen in Chart 1 below, violent crime has been on the rise since the early 1960’s. In the late 70’s and mid 80’s there were dips in the crime rate before sharp increases occurred. By the early 90’s violent crime peaked in the U.S. With the exception of a small increase in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, crime has steadily declined since its peak in the mid 90’s. Some would contribute this decline to the passage of new “tough on crime” laws, but this author would contend that premise and suggest that there is another reason for the decline in violent crimes.
Chart 2 below shows all four types of violent crime charted together for the years 1960 through the end of 2012. The sharp increase from 1960 until the early 1990’s is evident for the aggravated assault and robbery crimes. Forcible rape shows a slight increase and also shows this type of crime began to decline around the same time as the others, but forcible rape also seems to have held a steady rate over the period. Homicide is barely noticeable on Chart 2 as it only slightly rises up and rears its head on the chart.
But, if we take homicide and forcible rate and separate them on to a chart of their own we can see some surprising similarities in the trends associated with the other two types of crimes. Chart 3 and Chart 4 below show how each crime has a very similar trend.
Chart 3 shows non-negligent manslaughter and murder. Some may argue they are not the same, but unfortunately this is the way the information is presented on the Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics web site. Murder typically carries with it a charge of premeditation while the other does not. Non-negligent manslaughter is likely crimes where someone was careless and had they been more attentive the crime could have been prevented. At any rate, even with the combination of the two crimes, one can see that the trend for robbery and aggravated assault follow a similar trend. There was a sharp increase in the number of these crimes committed until a small dip occurs in the mid 1980’s followed by another sharp increase until the early 1990’s. Each type of crime then begins to decline until shortly before 2010, where a slight hump appears before another decline begins.
Upon reviewing Chart 4 below, one cannot argue that forcible rape also shows a very similar trend as the other three crime types. However, the decline does not appear to be quite as sharp as with the other crime types. An explanation for this may be that more and more young individuals are being charged for sexual assaults when having sex with partners that are only a few years younger than them but not yet at the age of consent. Perhaps a look at one more chart may shed some light on this dilemma; maybe a comparison of the actual crime rates will show us whether Chart 4 is an accurate portrayal of the trend it shows.
Chart 5 above looks very similar to Chart 2 shown earlier; so, let’s look at one final chart with only the crime rates for forcible rape. Chart 6 below may possibly reveal to us if the trend is more closely aligned with the other crime type trends or it may show that forcible rape rates are dropping at a slower rate than other violent crime rates are dropping. When we look at the actual crime rate data, which is based on the number of forcible rapes committed per 100,000 population, we can see that the rate of forcible rapes is declining just as sharply as the other violent crimes.
Now let’s take a look at the population of the United States and see if there seems to be a correlation between the age of the population and violent crimes. The U.S. population has steadily increased since 1960. Chart 7 below was generated using the data analysis tools available on the BJS web site. At the end of 1960 a whopping 179,323,175 people lived in the United States. A simple Google search tells us the population has grown to 317.3 million people by mid 2014; this of course is not the official number released, but only an estimate. The last official number was released for the 2012 population; 313,914,040 people called the United States home by the end of that year. Sometime in the near future we should reach double the population that lived within the country’s borders in 1960.
There are currently several generations of people living in the United States that make up the population. One of the earliest generations still contributing to the population is known as the “Silent Generation”. These individuals were born from 1926 through 1945. The following generation, “Baby Boomers” were born from 1946 to the end of 1964. “Generation X” members were born from 1965 through 1984, and “Millennials” were born from 1985 through the end of 2004. The current generation, known as “Generation Z”, started in 2005 and will continue until 2024.
Chart 7 above shows the size of the U.S. population since 1960 through the end of 2012, when the last official numbers were released. As can be seen the population has almost doubled in the last 50 years. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the U.S. population by the end of 1945 was 139.9 million people. By the end of the baby boomer generation in 1964 the population had increased to 191.9 million people. There were roughly 76 million children born during this generation and the birthrate climbed to a high of almost 27 babies born per 1000 population. By the end of the baby boomer generation the birthrate had declined to around 21 babies per 1000 population.
The birthrate during generation X started near 21 babies per 1000 population and dropped to around 15 by its end. However, generation X has actually contributed the highest numbers to the U.S. population with around 82.1 million children and is most certainly the largest generation of the last century. By the time generation X had ran its course the U.S. population had increased to 235.8 million. The birthrate since the end of generation X has held somewhat steady at around 14 babies per 1000 population. Millennials had contributed an increase in the total population to 293.7 million people by its end.
The FBI has published reports about arrest data for several decades; upon review of these reports it becomes clear that the majority of violent crimes are committed by individuals in the 15 to 45 age range. Chart 8 shows how the population was broken down by age in 1974, 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2010. The chart also shows the crime rate for the corresponding year. In 1974, 2002, and 2010 there was a larger difference
of the number of individuals under 15 & 46+ as compared to those 15-45 years of age. As can be seen the crime rates were lower in these years when the age of the population was much greater in the under 15 &46+ ranges. In 1982 and 1992, when crime rates were high, the difference was much smaller and there was less than a 10 million person difference. When we compare 2002 and 1974 we can see that the difference was almost the same and the crime rates are almost identical as well. Looking at 2010 we can see that the difference is quite a bit higher and the crime rate is quite a bit lower.
In 1961 the first of the baby boomers turned 15 years old and crime rates began to rise, by 1991 those individuals were turning 45 and crime rates began to drop. The first from generation X turned 15 around 1980 and crime rates again soared even higher. From 1980 until 1991 you had the major bulk of the two largest generations from the last century between the ages of 15 and 45. By 2010 the earliest born children of generation X reached the age of 45 and crime rates continue to drop as that generation ages. Another factor to consider is that life expectancy rates in the United States have increased dramatically. In the 1940’s baby boomers life expectancy was only about 65 years; in 2010 their life expectancy was around 79 years. The increase in life expectancy means that these individuals will continue to be counted in the population and contribute to the decrease in crime rates for far longer than their parents and grandparents did.
As stated earlier, in the 1990’s the legislature of the United States began passing “tough on crime” legislation. Many of these laws have been aimed at sex offenses and the offenders that commit these crimes. These laws have been shown to have very little effect on the rate of forcible rape committed in this country. When reviewing the charts above it is clear that this is true. The rates of the four major violent crimes have followed almost identical trends since the 1960’s. First, in 1960, as the baby boomer generation reached their middle teen years the crime rates began to rise. In the early 1980’s, when generation X began to reach their middle teen years the crime rates soared even higher. By the early 1990’s, when the baby boomers reached their mid 40’s the crime rates began to drop, and as generation X reached their mid 40’s around 2010 the rates continued to drop even further. This seems more likely a cause of the decline than the ‘tough on crime” legislation passed since the early 1990’s.
All four major crime rates followed the same pattern up until the 1990’s and have continued to follow the same pattern since then. If the “tough on crime” legislation were the cause of the decline then one would expect there to be differences in the decline of the four major types of violent crime. The reason for this is due to the almost triple amount of laws passed toughening the punishment of those who commit sexual offenses. If these laws were the cause for the decline in sexual offenses then the rate of decline should be expected to be far greater than the other three types of violent crime due to the sheer numbers of laws that have been passed. This is not the case. The forcible rape rate continues to decline at the exact same rate as all other violent crimes; this suggests that the legislation is not the major factor affecting the decline in the rate, but that other factors, such as the age of the population, are affecting the decline in the rate.