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An Empirical Assessment of What We Know About Structural Covariates of Homicide Rates: A Return to a Classic 20 Years Later

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Publication Date:
Jan 2010
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Cultural Contact

As the 20-year mark since the publication of an article by Kenneth C. Land, Patricia L. McCall, and Lawrence Cohen, “Structural Covariates of Homicide Rates: Are There Any Invariances Across Time and Social Space?” approaches, the question that these scholars originally posed is raised again: Have researchers been able to identify a set of robust structural covariates that consistently predict crime rates? Subsequent to the publication of this piece, numerous scholars have replicated and extended its conceptual, methodological, and empirical work in various ways—with more than 500 citations to date. In response to this attention, the authors first review the advances made by the Land et al. article. This is followed by a review of findings from studies published over the past 20 years to determine which structural predictors identified in the Land et al. piece continue to be prominent in the study of homicide and which structural predictors have surfaced in recent years as influential to crime rates. Using data on U.S. cities for the years 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000, the authors then present a systematic empirical assessment of the explanatory power of the covariates of homicide rates identified in the Land et al. study. Twenty years later, we find support for the claims of invariance established in Land et al. and acknowledge the contributions of this piece to the macrolevel study of homicide rates.

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