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Crime Rate Comparison: Sweden vs. Georgia

John on March 19, 2007 at 1:39 am

Ever since Gregory S. Paul’s study back in 2005, we’ve had plenty of discussion about the benefits of secularization around the blog. Paul’s study was a farce and has been criticized by social scientists and statisticians alike. In fact, the journal that published his “study” had two pieces debunking its claims in the very next issue. But it did get me interested in the topic of comparative crime rates.

I’ve recently thought of one way to make some cross-national crime comparisons that I didn’t think of back then. That is, rather than compare nation to nation, such as Norway to the US, compare nation to state. There are several advantages to this. First, by choosing a state with a similar population, you’re removing all sorts of unpleasant statistics from the mix.

As you can probably guess from the title of this post, I’ve chosen to compare Sweden with the state of Georgia. Sweden’s population, according to the CIA World Fact Book, is 9,016,596 (July 2006 est.). There are actually two states in the US that have very comparable populations, Georgia and New Jersey. For comparison purposes I’m going with Georgia because it’s closest in population (9,072,576 – 2005 figures).

My data comes from two official sources. Data for Sweden comes from the Swedish Crime Statistics web site. You can download all the crime data for 2005 as an excel spreadsheet. Data for the state of Georgia comes from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation web site. This data is also for the year 2005.

As we noted way back in our original debunking of Mr. Paul, US murder rates are unusually high. And that holds true here. There were 526 murders in 2005 compared to 243 in Sweden. So slightly more than double. However, in addition to murders, Sweden also tracks attempted murders. Attempted murders in Sweden in 2005 totaled 690. Since Georgia does not have a category for “attempted murder” there is no comparison data, but this does seem quite a high number. I would be interested in knowing how Sweden defines attempted murder.

While Swedes may gloat over these murder statistics, things take a dramatic turn for the worse when it comes to other violent crime, especially rape. There were 2,086 rapes in Georgia in 2005. In Sweden, the number was 3,787. This represented a huge up tick of 44% over 2004. The Swedish Crime Stats web site notes:

The greatest increase is found in relation to reported rape offenses, which increased by 44 percent to almost 3,800 cases. In contrast, the number of reported crimes of sexual coercion, exploitation etc. decreased by eighteen percent by comparison with 2004. A legislative change introduced on 1 April 2005 has meant that some acts previously classified as sexual coercion are now regarded as rape, suggesting that much of the increase in the number of reported rapes is due to this change in the legislation. It is likely that this legislative change is also largely responsible for the decrease in the number of reported sexual coercion offenses.

Whether Georgia and Sweden are counting apples and oranges is a fair question. But however one parses the data, it is nevertheless true that “The number of reported sex crimes increased by twelve percent to just over 11,700 in 2005.” So the up tick isn’t merely an artifact of new laws. A 44% increase over 2004 means that there would have been something in the neighborhood of 2,600 rapes under the old laws, still about 25% higher than in Georgia.

Let’s look at a few more:

  • Assault: Georgia – 22,409, Sweden – 72,645.
  • Burglary: Georgia – 79,834, Sweden – 113,604
  • Robbery: Georgia – 13,801, Sweden – 9,398
  • Larceny: Georgia – 234,444, Sweden – 372,882
  • Motor-Vehicle Theft: Georgia – 43,414, Sweden – 56,719

Not quite the picture we’re usually presented, is it? Of course there are many other factors that are difficult to weigh. It’s possible Swedish police are simply better at catching crooks. Although, if this were the case year after year, one would expect the crime rate to drop as more offenders head to prison.

Assuming that these categories are at least roughly comparable, it appears that Georgia — a Bible belt state — is doing slightly better than secular miracle Sweden with regard to crime, with the one notable exception of homicide. Because this is such an outlying statistic, I wonder if it’s not an artifact of American’s easy access to guns. Based on the other crime figures (the assault statistics for instance) it doesn’t seem evident that Americans are more violent than Swedes. Perhaps it’s that in the US killers have recourse to more deadly instruments, i.e. handguns. In support of this idea I note that the Swedish crime stats make it clear that about 80-90% of “attempted murders” did not involve a firearm.

This might make a good argument for gun control, but looking at the overall picture, it doesn’t make a good argument for the superiority of secular socialism.

Update 3/19: Saw this today:

A full 15 percent of the world’s underground economy servers are located in Sweden, according to infrastructure software company Symantec. When taken on a per capita basis, the figures mean that Sweden has the highest concentration of online criminal activity in the world.

Update 5/23: Mark from Sweden has made a stirring defense of Sweden’s honor in the comments.  Some of his points are convincing, such as the fact that Georgia’s numbers for assault may be one type of assault only, while Sweden’s may be a broader category. Sorting this out would require research time I don’t have at the moment. For his rebuttal see here.

Update 12/28: Mark from Sweden’s original defense vis a vis rape statistics claimed:

Rape stats can’t be compared the way you do since the law differs greatly between Georgia and Sweden. The definition in Georgia of rape is much more narrow than in Sweden. Only forcible rape is included in your numbers from Georgia. Statutory rape is not included in the Georgia stats (see definition here) Rape of males are not included in the numbers from Georgia. Carnal knowledge is required in order for it to be counted as rape in Georgia. In Sweden it isn’t. And there are even more differences. Not to mention that rape is a crime where not all offences get reported. That makes the numbers even less reliable and less possible to compare with countries where the law differs.

It’s worth noting that the latest statistics from Georgia for 2008 show 2,236 rapes (excluding statutory rape and rape of males). The latest stats from Sweden show 2,554 completed rapes of women over 18. In other words, rapes of men and statutory rape are not included (they are listed separately), yet the number is still higher than in Georgia.

It’s also worth noting that the age of consent in Sweden is 15 (with a few significant exceptions, such as for parents or guardians). Therefore it’s likely that a significant portion of the additional 895 “completed rapes” of women between 15-17 (also 2008 numbers) were not of the statutory variety since in most cases statutory rape would only apply to girls under 15.

It’s still likely there are some differences in how the statistics are compiled. Sweden may in fact be listing each act of rape as a separate crime whereas Georgia is counting them as one crime. But the fact remains that completed, non-statutory rapes of women appear to be 50% higher in Sweden than in Georgia. How much of that difference is down to counting methodology is anyone’s guess.

Sadly, the murder rate in Georgia continues to be about triple that of Sweden.

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