Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Homicidal Ideation (and behaviour)

Men get killed a lot more than women do.  It's actually a pretty big difference.  Statistics Canada gave me numbers going back to 1982, and the murder rate for men - measured in murder victims per 100,000 people - was consistently about 1.5 higher than the murder rate for women.  The fact that men are killed so much more than women won't surprise anyone who is paying attention, what surprised me was that the difference between the two murder rates seemed relatively constant, rather than fluctuating with the murder rates themselves.

I'll explain what I mean.  I would think that there would be a relatively predictable ratio between the murder rates of men and women.  Say, over time, men get killed about twice as often.  If the overall murder rate went down, I would think that both the male victims and female victims would go down and the ratio would stay about the same.  Instead, the difference between the two has remained pretty close to 1.5 and the ratio between them has gone up and up from 1.8 to 2.5.

If it were simply that, all other things being equal, people today were murdering each other about 60% of the the amount that they were in 1982 then we should see a steady ratio rather than a steady difference between the murder rates of any two groups.  That we can find a group where murders went down much more sharply than another suggests there is a difference between these two groups.  This also appears to be more than chance.  If 1982 were the prototype for the ratio of men to women killed then all three of the last three years would be a 1 in 100 year level event.

So the rate at which the murder of men has fallen has not kept pace with the rate at which the murder of women has fallen.  This is certainly due to a huge number of factors pushing murder rates both up and down, so it would be silly to try to speculate about the why.

But when I look at these data, this is how it looks to me: The murder rate in Canada would have fallen by about half between 1982 and 2012 were it not for a small number of men - about one in every 230,000 - who are stubbornly getting themselves murdered every year.  It's a very small proportion of the population, but a significant proportion of the murder rate.  In fact, about 13% of murders are accounted for by the obstinance of these men.  In a city like Toronto it might amount to seven or eight people in a year.  Seven or eight dead men who would have lived had they not been so intractable on the issue of being murdered.

Is that a joke?

I learned something else from murder statistics.  In 1997 Statistics Canada started tracking how many intimate-partner murders were committed in same-sex couples.  For the first few years it goes up and down pretty wildly, but in more recent years it's settled on between about 3.5 and 5 percent.  There are many reasons why people struggle with the idea of trying to say what portion of the population is gay.  There are questions of how you define gay, where you slot in bisexual people and people who don't even think of themselves as having a particular sexual orientation.  In university people bandied the number 1 in 10 around but it was entirely fabricated.  In the 1950s a survey showed that nearly 50% of people had some kind of sexual contact with people of their own sex, but that was coming out of the situational homosexuality of world war II.  There are so many confounding factors.  But here, I think, we have a fact-based number we can use for many purposes.  Murder is, presumably, a good proxy for love.

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