Murder Mystery

In a recent American Sociological Review piece, Michael Light and Jeffrey Ulmer analyze homicide deaths between 1989 and 2010 to examine the determinants of criminal violence trends among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics. In addition to structural disadvantages such as poverty and unemployment, they were interested in whether immigration, residential segregation, mass incarceration, and wealth inequality decreased or increased differences in homicide rates among the three groups.

Using data on causes of death from the Centers for Disease Control across all large U.S. metropolitan areas, Light and Ulmer demonstrate that, while homicide death rates among all three groups changed over time, results suggest that the Hispanic-White gap converged the most while the Black-White gap converged the least. Factors that exacerbate the Black-White gap include structural disadvantage, gun availability, and segregation. The gap narrows with an increase in the foreign-born population, an increase in the incarceration rate, and an increase in population. An increase in immigrants as well as drug activity was related to an increase in the Hispanic-White gap while residential mobility and affluence decreased it. The Black-Hispanic gap increased with segregation, gun availability, and segregation but decreased with an increase in incarceration rate.

Ultimately, confirming prior research, Light and Ulmer show that despite a wide range of factors that influence homicide rate differences by race and ethnicity, structural disadvantage remains the strongest explanation for death disparities.