The effect of poverty and social protection on national homicide rates: Direct and moderating effects

Soc Sci Res. 2013 May;42(3):584-95. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.12.005. Epub 2012 Dec 20.


Social protection is the ability of a government to insulate its citizens from the problems associated with poverty and market forces that negatively affect their quality of life. Prior research shows that government policies that provide social protection moderate the influence of inequality on national homicide rates. Recent research, however, reveals a strong association between poverty and national homicide rates. Further, theory and evidence suggest that social protection policies are meant to aid in providing a subsistence level of living, and thus to alleviate the vagaries of poverty not inequality. To this point, however, no studies have examined the potentially moderating effect of social protection on the strength of the association between poverty and homicide rates cross-nationally. We do so in the present study. Employing data for the year 2004 from a sample of 30 nations, we estimate a series of weighted least squares regression models to test three hypotheses: the association between poverty and homicide will remain significant and positive when controlling for social protection, social protection will have a significant negative direct effect on national homicide rates, and social protection will diminish the strength of the poverty-homicide association. The results provided evidence supporting all three hypotheses. We situate our findings in the cross-national empirical literature on social structure and homicide and discuss our results in the theoretical context of social protection.