The Long-term Effect of Slavery on Violent Crime: Evidence from Us Counties

Moamen Gouda (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies)
Anouk S. Rigterink (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Abstract: This study investigates the long-term relationship between slavery and violence in USA. Although considerable qualitative evidence suggests that slavery has been a key factor behind the prevalence of violence, especially in Southern USA, there has been no large-N study supporting this claim so far. Using county-level data for the USA, we find that the proportion of slaves in the population in 1860 is associated with an increase in the rate of violent crimes in all census years for the period 1970-2000. This relationship is robust to including state fixed effects, controlling for various historical and contemporary factors, as well as to instrumenting for slavery using environmental conditions. We explore two potential channels of transmission: (1) slavery leading to higher levels of inequality, which could increase violent crime, and (2) slavery contributing to an ingrained culture of Southern violence. Our results show that only the proportion of slaves living on large slave holdings, as opposed to small slave holdings, is related to contemporary violent crime, supporting inequality as a channel of transmission. We find some tentative evidence supporting culture of violence between the white and black population as a second channel of transmission.

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