Still separate and unequal? a city-level analysis of the black-white gap in homicide arrests since 1960

Gary LaFree, Eric P. Baumer, Robert O'Brien

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57 Scopus citations


More than four decades ago, the Kerner Report chronicled the violent disturbances of the 1960s and predicted that the United States was rapidly moving toward two racially separate and unequal societies. Resulting concerns about black and white inequality form a critical chapter in the history of sociological research. Few studies, however, explore trends in racial inequality in rates of violence. Has the gap between black and white violence rates significantly narrowed since 1960 and, if so, why? Drawing on recent work on assimilation and the literature on race inequality, we develop a set of hypotheses about black-white differences in violence rates and how these rates may have changed during the past four decades. We emphasize race differences in family structure, economic and educational inequality, residential integration, illicit drug involvement, and population composition. Using race-specific homicide arrest and census data on social, economic, and demographic conditions for 80 large U.S. cities from 1960 to 2000, we find substantial convergence in black-white homicide arrest rates over time, although this convergence stalled from the 1980s to the 1990s. Consistent with theoretical expectations, we find that, since the 1960s, the racial gap in homicide arrests declined more substantially in cities that had greater reductions in the ratio of black to white single-parent families, as well as in cities that experienced greater population growth and increases in the proportion of the population that is black. Also, as expected, the race gap in homicide arrests widened in cities that had an increasing ratio of black to white rates of drug arrests. Measures of racial integration, however, have no discernible impact on the black to white homicide arrest ratio.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-100
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican sociological review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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