Black Women in the U.S. Murdered Six Times More Often Than White Women
Black women in the U.S. were, on average, six times more likely to be murdered than their white peers for the years 1999 through 2020, according to an analysis of racial disparities in U.S. homicide rates by researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. The study indicates that Black women are more likely than white women to be killed by guns.
The study is the first to analyze homicide trends spanning two decades among women aged 25 to 44—the ages at which women are most likely to be murdered. The findings are published in The Lancet.
It is well known that homicide rates among Black women in the U.S. are disproportionately high compared to white women and that Black women tend to be murdered at younger ages and higher rates than other women of color in the U.S., including Native American and Alaska Native women. Despite these facts, data on the disparities remains limited.
“As a scholar whose research examines intimate partner violence, I have long known that there were disparities in homicide rates between Black and white women. To uncover the fact that Black women are murdered at rates as high as 20 to 1 is heart-breaking and underscores the urgent need to make substantive structural shifts,” says Bernadine Waller, PhD, lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral research fellow in the Psychiatry Department at Columbia University Irving Medical Center with a dual appointment at New York State Psychiatric Institute.
The study findings also show that:
- Homicide rates among Black women were significantly higher than for white women in all 30 states analyzed, with the biggest differences in states with the highest racial inequities.
- The greatest disparity in homicide rates was in Wisconsin in 2019-2020, when Black women were 20 times more likely to be murdered than white women.
- Black women in the U.S. were more likely than white women to be killed by a firearm, particularly those in the Northeast and Midwest.
The evidence suggests a strong link exists between higher homicide rates and the effects of deeply entrenched racial inequities—which manifest through factors such as educational attainment, unemployment, and wealth distribution—across the U.S. This suggests that measures to reduce structural racism in the U.S could help prevent elevated rates of homicide among Black women. Understanding how disparities in homicide rates change over time at state and regional levels may help identify areas where intervention is needed most.
The authors used CDC WONDER public health data to carry out a cross-sectional analysis of homicide death rates for Black and white women in the U.S. between 1999 and 2020. The analysis focused on women aged 25-44 years in the 30 states with enough homicides (more than nine in any year) for analysis. Results were produced for five time periods: 1999-2003, 2004-2008, 2009-2013, 2014-2018, 2019-2020. The method of homicide was analyzed for four U.S. regions: South, Midwest, West, and Northeast.
The findings indicate Black women in the U.S. consistently had higher homicide rates compared to white women between 1999 and 2020. The overall homicide rate among Black women in 2020 was 11.6 per 100,000 population, compared with 3.0 per 100,000 among white women. This was virtually unchanged from 1999, when the rate among Black women was 11.6 per 100,000 compared to 2.9 per 100,000 in white women. While disparities in homicide rates fell between 1999 and 2013—due to a decrease in homicide rates in Black women—they increased from 2013 to 2020. At the state level, there were differences in how disparities in homicide rates decreased or increased between 1999 and 2020.
Homicide rates among Black women were higher than their white peers during all periods in every state analyzed. While the greatest inequities in homicide rates were in Wisconsin in 2019-2020, when Black women were twenty times more likely to be murdered than white women, the greatest disparities overall, were in the Midwest, where Black women in 2020 were over seven times more likely to be murdered than white women.
Notably, states with the greatest disparities in homicide rates were in parts of the country with a high proportion of people of low socioeconomic status living close together. These areas also tend to have histories of slavery and lynching and are places where especially tense Black Lives Matter protests took place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our findings indicate that the greatest inequities are in the areas of the country where concentrated disadvantage is pronounced. Thus, focusing on historical structural racism’s long-lasting legacy in the U.S. is imperative. Efforts aimed at reducing disproportionate homicide deaths among Black women can be implemented through addressing the role of structural racism when it comes to policies and practices that increase Black women’s risk and lessen Black women’s access to much-needed resources,” said Victoria A. Joseph, MPH, a co-author of the paper and a data analyst in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.
Gun deaths among Black and white women in the U.S. increased, with women in general more than twice as likely (odds of 2.44) to be killed by firearms in 2019-2020 compared to 1999-2003. However, Black women were more likely than white women to be killed by a firearm (odds of 1.38).
The odds of gun deaths among Black women increased over time compared to white women. In 2020, Black women in the Northeast were three times more likely than white women (odds of 3.02) to be killed by a firearm, while firearm homicides among Black women in the Midwest were more than six times higher (odds of 6.31) than among white women. In the South, Black women were around one and a half times (odds of ~1.5) more likely to be killed by a firearm. The West’s sample size was too small to be included in this part of the analysis.
“Available data indicate that homicides in the U.S. continued to escalate in many areas of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, which also intersected with widespread national protests after the murder of George Floyd. These trends reflect systems that have long disserviced communities of color, and underscore that sustained investment and vision to support underserved communities are critical to reverse racial injustices that impact health and wellbeing,” said Katherine Keyes, PhD, senior author of the paper and professor of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.
The study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health (grants MH131137, MH096724).