The Public Interest

Violent death, violent states, and American youth

Frank J. Popper , George W. Carey & Michael R. Greenberg

Spring 1987

DURING the past two decades, more and more young Americans have been dying violent deaths. Although rates for every age group have been rapidly declining since the turn of the century, the death rates for those aged 15-24 have, since 1960, been on the rise. In these years the rate of youths involved in motor vehicle and other accidental deaths has been climbing while suicide and homicide rates have shot up dramatically. Moreover, violent deaths are becoming a larger proportion of all youth mortality. In 1960, suicides and homicides accounted for less than 8 percent of all youth deaths; two decades later they accounted for 20 percent. While many recent studies have noted the increasing role of drugs, crime, and pregnancy in the lives of young people, perhaps no set of figures as those concerning violent death so vividly illustrate the increasing amount of self-destructive behavior among American youth. What we are seeing is not a uniquely American trend; youth death rates are increasing in most urban-industrial nations. But youth in the United States have a higher death rate than their counterparts in England, Japan, and Sweden and the rate appears to be increasing more rapidly.

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