Op-ed: The racial disparity of murder victimization

Every year since the early 1990s, nearly half of all homicide victims have been black men. Given that African-American males represent only about seven percent of the U.S. population, their disproportionately high victimization rate represents a staggering and often-ignored figure.

Despite this disheartening statistic, there is some good news. Since the early 1990s, murder rates have dramatically plummeted. While the cause for this decline is debatable, the benefit is not. Black men, more than any other sociodemographic group, are living significantly longer lives specifically because of lower homicide rates.

Professors Patrick Sharkey and Matthew Friedson calculate, in more tangible terms, the benefits of lower homicide rates in their landmark study, “The Impact of the Homicide Decline on Life Expectancy of African American Males,” Demography (March 5, 2019). This study shows that from 1991 to 2014, the life expectancy of black men increased by 0.8 years, entirely due to lower homicide rates. For every 100,000 African-American males, this increase translates to an additional 1,156 years of life.

No other group experienced such an increase. Sharkey/Friedson calculated that this precipitous drop in homicide rates closed the life expectancy gap between whites and blacks by 17 percent. This development is an unsung miracle in the march for racial equality.

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