While thinking about the deterrent effect of the death penalty I wondered about cross-national variation in rates of violent death. Comparative data on homicide rates undoubtedly exist, but I don’t have them to hand. I do have OECD data on death rates due to assault, though, so here’s a nice picture of this trend for eighteen capitalist democracies from 1960 to 2002.

Death rate graphic

You can get this as a higher-resolution PDF file (with appropriately rearranged layout), too. Countries are arrayed from top to bottom based on their mean death rate over the period, with the lowest at the top left. As is immediately clear, the U.S. rate is both much higher and much more variable than any of the other countries. It rises rapidly through the 1960s and ’70s. It bounces around between the late 70s and early 1990s, falling then rising sharply again, before beginning a sharp and sustained decline that brings it back to about 1965 levels, though still more about three times as high as other countries.

Variations in other countries are harder to pick out because their differences look small when compared to the U.S. But many countries experienced small but steady increases until the 1980s. From there, rates generally leveled off or declined, though there are exceptions. Italy experienced a surge in violent deaths in the late 1980s. Dutch rates seem to have gradually climbed across the whole period, while Japan’s have consistently declined. Though it doesn’t change much after 1970 or so, Finland’s rate bounces around its mean value much more than other countries.

I’m a sucker for data visualization. Maybe I’ll post more of this sort of thing.