Letter

Economic insecurity and the rise in gun violence at US schools

  • Nature Human Behaviour volume 1, Article number: 0040 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41562-016-0040
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Abstract

Frequent school shootings are a unique US phenomenon that has defied understanding1,2. Uncovering the aetiology of this problem is hampered by the lack of an established dataset3,4. Here we assemble a carefully curated dataset for the period 1990–2013 that is built upon an exhaustive review of existing data and original sources. Using this dataset, we find that the rate of gun violence is time-dependent and that this rate is heightened from 2007 to 2013. We further find that periods of increased shooting rates are significantly correlated with increases in the unemployment rate across different geographic aggregation levels (national, regional and city). Consistent with the hypothesis that increasing uncertainty in the school-to-work transition contributes to school shootings, we find that multiple indicators of economic distress significantly correlate with increases in the rate of gun violence when events at both K12 and post-secondary schools are considered.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank D. Figlio and B. Carruthers for their thoughtful consideration and feedback on an early version of this work. A.J.H. would like to acknowledge financial support from the Northwestern University Presidential Fellowship. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO), Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

    • A. R. Pah
    •  & L. A. N. Amaral
  2. Management and Organizations, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

    • A. R. Pah
  3. Department of Sociology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

    • J. Hagan
    •  & K. Albrecht
  4. American Bar Foundation, Chicago, Illinois 60611, USA

    • J. Hagan
  5. Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

    • A. L. Jennings
    • , A. Jain
    • , A. J. Hockenberry
    •  & L. A. N. Amaral
  6. Department of Physics and Astronomy, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

    • L. A. N. Amaral
  7. Department of Medicine, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

    • L. A. N. Amaral

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Contributions

A.R.P., J.H. and L.A.N.A. developed the research question. A.R.P., A.L.J., A.J., K.A. and A.J.H. collected, validated and annotated the data. A.R.P. and A.L.J. conducted the initial analyses. A.R.P. conducted the primary analyses and supporting analyses. A.R.P. and L.A.N.A. wrote the manuscript. A.R.P., J.H., A.J.H. and L.A.N.A. edited the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to L. A. N. Amaral.

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    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Results, Supplementary Figures 1–9, Supplementary Tables 1–27, Supplementary Reference