A Factor in Mass Murder? Stratification Between Rich and Poor

Mass murders like we saw in Aurora aren't entirely explainable, a new article in Time's Healthland says, but social stratification and isolation can increase its likelihood.

And indeed, we've here's tons to explore in terms of society's stigmatization, awareness of mental illness and access to weapons. But the cultural support system we create matters, one factor that helps in particular is equality.

Writes Maia Szalavitz(emphases mine):


As Eric Michael Johnson writes for Scientific American, the biggest contributor to homicide in the U.S. is not mental illness, addictions or even the accessibility of guns. It’s economic disparity: the wider the gap between the rich and poor, the more violence a population breeds. Describing an analysis of homicide rates in 50 states conducted by Harvard’s Ichiro Kawachi, Johnson writes:

  • The results were unambiguous: when income inequality was higher, so was the rate of homicide. Income inequality alone explained 74% of the variance in murder rates and half of the aggravated assaults. However, social capital had an even stronger association and, by itself, accounted for 82% of homicides and 61% of assaults. Other factors such as unemployment, poverty, or number of high school graduates were only weakly associated and alcohol consumption had no connection to violent crime at all. A World Bank sponsored study subsequently confirmed these results on income inequality concluding that, worldwide, homicide and the unequal distribution of resources are inextricably tied.

In other words, the connections we have to one another — our social capital, our ability to seek and receive support from others — is the most important weapon we have against violence. These connections are put at risk when economic inequality rises. Studies show that social cohesion and trust drop when disparities between the rich and poor rise. Since markets rely on trust to function smoothly — and since distrust can provoke political paralysis and polarization — a vicious cycle can ensue.

Szalavitz notes that the way we treat each other makes all the difference, noting that gender is far more of a proven factor than mental illness, but we don't shun men (n fact, we do the opposite):


For the mentally ill, who might be seen as canaries in this coal mine, stigma serves to wall them off from the social support and medical care that are necessary to spur recovery and prevent illness from leading to tragedy. As a society, we need to understand that risk does not equal destiny — and that believing it does is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not wrong to see schizophrenia as a disease or even to appreciate its association with violence, but to view people with schizophrenia as hopeless can in some cases worsen their course unnecessarily.


AlterNet / By Sarah Seltzer

Posted at August 1, 2012, 8:45am