New Report: U.S. Homicide Rate Falls to Lowest Rate in Four Decades

November 18, 2011

This week, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced that in 2010 the U.S. homicide rate fell to 4.2 homicides per 100,000 residents, the lowest U.S. homicide rate in four decades.  

The new homicide statistics are part of a report by BJS: Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008, which details homicide patterns and trends in the United States from 1980 to 2008. 

Overall, the U.S. has experienced a significant drop in the total homicide rate since 1980. In 1980, the U.S. homicide rate hovered at 10.2 per 100,000 residents, more than twice the current homicide rate. In the early 1980s, the homicide rate gradually fell for a few years but rose again beginning in the middle of the decade, peaking at an all-time high of 24,703 homicides in 1991. Since the homicide rate spiked in the early 1990s, it subsequently declined, reaching a four-decade low last year. 

Much of the decline in the nation’s homicide rate is due to a decrease in homicides occurring in large cities -- defined as cities with at least 100,000 residents. Since 1980, 57.7 percent of homicides in the U.S. have occurred in large cities, and more than one third of those homicides occurred in the nation’s largest cities -- defined as cities with at least 1 million residents. 

The BJS report shows that the largest cities experienced a dramatic decrease in homicide rates since 1980, which is a prominent factor in the total drop in the nation’s homicide rate. From 1991 to 2008, the homicide rate in the largest cities was cut by nearly two thirds, falling from 35.5 homicides per 100,000 residents in 1991 to 11.9 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2008.                                                                                                                            

In addition to mapping out homicide rates by year and region, the study paints a detailed picture of U.S. homicides by breaking down homicide numbers by a variety of other criteria including:

  • Victim/Offender Relationship: More than 56 percent of homicide victims were acquaintances with the assailant.
  • Weapon: Handgun-involved homicides increased in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and fell to a low in 2008.
  • Circumstance: The number of homicides that occurred during the commission of another felony, such as a robbery or burglary, declined from about 5,300 homicides in 1991 to 2,600 homicides in 2000, then stabilized through 2008.                                                          

For more information about homicide trends over the last three decades, please visit the Bureau of Justice Statistics website and read the full report.