Homicides are at the lowest point in over twenty years, when we first started accurately counting. With 2014’s total of 134 homicides nationwide in the Netherlands, the downward trend of lethal violence is steadily continuing. These statistics stand in stark contrast with the 1990s, which witnessed an average of 250 homicides per year. The decline has started at the beginning of this millennium and so far does not seem to stop.
Nationwide, most homicides are committed by male offenders. In a forthcoming study, we find that most frequently, in about 5 out of 10 cases, homicides occur between family members, and more specifically between (ex-) partners (3 out of 10 homicides). Almost half of all homicides are committed in a private home. Killings are most frequently committed by means of a firearm (39%) or sharp objects such as knives (36%). Zooming in on geographical location, we see that 4 out of 10 homicides are committed in urban areas such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Even though media attention seems to suggest otherwise, the number of homicides in urban and rural areas alike are decreasing.
The downward trend in the Netherlands shows striking similarity with other Western European countries where comparable declines have been observed. The same accounts for the United States: Although the homicide rate in the US started decreasing a decade earlier, and the level of homicide is still fivefold that of Western Europe, the declining pattern is the same. Several reasons have been put forward to explain this downward trend. These range from changes in alcohol and drug abuse, changes in demographic composition, changes in the rate of crimes being solved, to more absurd potential predictors such as abortion and lead poisoning.
Recent research on the causes of the decline has investigated the influence of common predictors on the homicide decline, such as unemployment (economic difficulties leading to more conflict), alcohol consumption (more drinks leading to more conflict), average population density (more people in a small area leading to more conflict), and social inequality (less equality leading to more conflict). However, according to this research of these classic predictors seemed to fit the levels and trends of homicide.
Instead, scholars suggest that lifestyle changes are responsible for the homicide drop. Historically, changes in homicide rates are mostly attributable to changes in murders between young men. The 1960s, characterized by sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, brought about a relaxation of norms resulting in higher homicide rates: People spent more time outside the house and hence, ran a greater risk of victimization. With the arrival of the computer and more importantly, the internet, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, people spent more time indoors than ever before. This particularly accounted for young men, who – because of their age and gender – run an overall higher risk of becoming involved in a homicide. The currently all-time low rates in the Netherlands could very well be explained by the pervasive influence of the internet. If this proposition holds true, given the ever-increasing digitalization of our society, the end of the drop does not appear to be in sight.