Why Crime Rates Are Falling Throughout the Western World

64 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2014 Last revised: 28 Mar 2015

See all articles by Michael Tonry

Michael Tonry

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law

Date Written: October 27, 2014


Crime rates have moved in parallel in Western societies since the late Middle Ages. Homicide rates declined from 20 to 100 per 100,000 population in western Europe to one per 100,000 in most Western countries by the beginning of the twentieth century. Crime rates in major cities and in countries fell from the early nineteenth century until the middle of the twentieth. From the 1960s to the 1990s, rates for violent and property crimes rose in all wealthy Western countries. Since then, rates in all have fallen precipitately for homicide, burglary, auto theft, and other property crimes. The patterns appear in both police and victimization data. Rates for nonlethal violence have fallen sharply in the English-speaking countries and parts of continental Europe. In other parts of Europe, nonlethal violence has been stable or increasing, but the data are probably wrong. Interacting changes in rates of reporting and recording, and in cultural thresholds of tolerance of violence that occurred earlier in the English-speaking countries are the likeliest explanation for the appearance of crime rate increases. Diverse explanations have been offered for both the long- and short-term declines. Most agree that, whatever the explanations may be, they do not include direct effects of changes in policing or sanctioning policies.

Keywords: cross-national crime trends, declining crime rates, crime rates, comparative criminal justice

Suggested Citation

Tonry, Michael, Why Crime Rates Are Falling Throughout the Western World (October 27, 2014). 43 Crime & Justice, 2014, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-41, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2520500

Michael Tonry (Contact Author)

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law

Guenterstalstr. 73
Freiburg, 79100

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