Do socio-demographic factors explain high violent crime in the Caribbean?

In previous blogs about a recent study on crime in the Caribbean, we find that violent crime is uniquely high in the sub-region, and that the victims are mainly young, low-income males. With the study Restoring Paradise in the Caribbean: Combating Violence with Numbers (executive summary here), we have set out not just to characterize the situation of crime and violence in the Caribbean, but also, try to explain it. And we began by looking at socio-demographic factors:

Age and gender

So, if young males are more likely to be victims and perpetrators of violent crime, then maybe high violent crime in the Caribbean is explained by the high proportion of young males in the population. Figure 1 shows that there is a relationship between the homicide rate and the percentage of the population that is young and male worldwide (Spearman’s Rho = 0.47, P>0.05, n = 145). However, the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region has higher homicide rates than countries in other parts of the world, even with the same levels of young male populations.

Figure 1 -Percentage of the population young and male versus national homicide rates –

Source: Sutton and Ruprah 2017 using homicide data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime data and United Nations population data (2010).

Percent Urban and GDP growth

Given that urban areas have higher rates of victimization, we might imagine that countries with higher percentages of the population in urban areas would have higher crime rates. Similarly, we could theorize that increased wealth of a country (GDP growth) would lead a country to have lower crime rates. However, figures 2 and 3 show that Latin America and the Caribbean continue to stand out with higher levels of homicide than other countries with similarly urbanized populations and GDP growth rates. This suggests that the region is still more violent than it should be for the level of economic growth and age, gender, and urban composition of the population.

Figure 2- Percentage of the population that is urban versus national homicide rates

Sources: Sutton and Ruprah 2017 using data from the World Bank, World Development Indicators; and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime homicide data (2012).


Figure 3 – GDP growth versus national homicide rates

Sources: Sutton and Ruprah 2017 using data from the World Bank, World Development Indicators; and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime homicide data (2012).

But if these factors don’t completely explain the uniquely high levels of violent crime in the Caribbean, what does? Stay tuned for future blogs that will address this question focusing on tolerance of violence in the home, at-risk youth, neighbourhood characteristics, gangs, guns, and criminal justice institutions.


About the author:

Heather Sutton is an IDB consultant in Citizen Security. She is the Research Coordinator for several IDB projects on crime and violence in the Caribbean involving victimization surveys and surveys on Violence Against Women. Before coming to the IDB, Heather worked as a researcher, project manager and activist on the subjects of public safety, armed violence and gun control for the Brazilian NGO Instituto Sou da Paz. She holds a Master’s in Public Administration from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a BA in International Affairs from Colorado University.


Read more blogs from Heather Sutton’s Crime and Violence series:


Show 3 Comments


  • avatar image
    sally radford
    November 23, 2017 Reply

    trinidad and tobago has a large immigrant [population from caricom, venezuela and africa, many of whom commit crime with impuinity under a corrupt racist regime which fails to protect law-abiding citizsens despite a $10billion budget for security, the highest in the cabinet. police are corrupt and public servants biased against caucasians. a reparation committee for slavery must be abolished to focus on rural development through agriculture where yoiuth should be employed to grow food to cut the import bill. rum culture, carnival alcohol, tobacco, tattoos, vice, hair dyes and extensions squander precious taxes. ignoring flood victims while lavishing aid opn hurricane survivors is an insult to farmers and oilfield inhabitants pouring petrodollars into state coffers. the best solution is to repatriate youth to subsaharan homelands in the AU rich in agricultural and mineral resources.

  • avatar image
    Thomas Hutegger
    November 23, 2017 Reply

    We all do what makes the most sense to us. To the person committing a crime this action appears to best ensure their survival, ensure their best survival, and increases their choice and chance for a mating partner. The core instincts: survival of the species and self survival. Following your animal instincts, combined with lack of love, are the typical symptoms of spiritual immaturity. I’m not talking about religion! I’m talking about total ignorance of what our purpose as a species is on this planet, and what the person’s specific mission here is. As long as our religious leaders are not providing a message that speaks to the people, people will ignore them. As long as they are not providing a clear, logical, verifiable purpose for our existence, there’s no chance for people to choose the “human” rather than the “animal” way. As long as we’re not focusing on solving the core issue, we’re like somebody who has a leak in the basement and instead of fixing the leak is spending time and money trying to find better ways to mop up the water! Mopping up is important and necessary - but let’s fix the leak! Let’s teach children from early childhood on that we come to this world as humans so we can make it a better place, to be the tools for the universe (god, allah, great spirit, whatever) to continue the development of this great creation. And let’s help them figure out what specific mission each of them came here to work on. If a person sees their purpose, they’ll experience the happiness that is the result of making a contribution. With that knowledge and these experiences it is virtually impossible to choose crime as best option! #toolOfTheUniverse

    • lynns
      December 7, 2017 Reply

      Hello Thomas, Societies have evolved to ensure the most harmonious ways to coexist. Obviously the law of the jungle has been proved unfit because of its disastrous nature. While some can prevail, others will lead a miserable and destructive life. And as the proverbs says, "what goes around comes around"; you can be at the top one day, and find yourself at the bottom the next. So why risk it? For what? The studies have shown that those who choose the path of violence and crime are usually dropouts who earn less as adults. Some percieve life in an existential manner, others seek truth through religion, while others seek understanding through science or logic. No matter which path one decides to take, let's spread the good word by educating people. They will all lead to the same rationale: Crime and violence have to end!

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