Nav: Home

Shootings in US schools are linked to increased unemployment

January 30, 2017

A rigorous Northwestern University study of a quarter-century of data has found that economic insecurity is related to the rate of gun violence at K-12 and postsecondary schools in the United States. When it becomes more difficult for people coming out of school to find jobs, the rate of gun violence at schools increases.

The interdisciplinary study by data scientists Adam R. Pah and Luís Amaral and sociologist John L. Hagan reveals a persistent connection over time between unemployment and the occurrence of school shootings in the country as a whole, across various regions of the country and within affected cities, including Chicago and New York City.

"The link between education and work is central to our expectations about economic opportunity and upward mobility in America," said Hagan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Sociology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. "Our study indicates that increases in gun violence in our schools can result from disappointment and despair during periods of increased unemployment, when getting an education does not necessarily lead to finding work."

Frequent school shootings have been a major concern in American society for decades, but the causes have defied understanding. The Northwestern researchers used data from 1990 to 2013 on both gun violence in U.S. schools and economic metrics, including unemployment, to get some answers.

"Our findings highlight the importance of economic opportunity for the next generation and suggest there are proactive actions we could take as a society to help decrease the frequency of gun violence," said Pah, clinical assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management.

Other key findings include:

  • While Chicago is singled out in the study as one of the six cities with the most incidents from 1990 to 2013, Chicago schools are not any more dangerous than schools in other large cities.
  • Gun violence at schools has not become more deadly over time.
  • Most shootings are targeted, with the shooter intending to harm a specific person.
  • Gang-related violence and lone mass shooters comprise only small fractions of the gun violence that occurs at U.S. schools. Gang-related violence constitutes 6.6% of all incidents.
  • The results suggest that during periods of heightened unemployment, increased gun violence may be a growing risk in American college and university settings.

The study, "Economic Insecurity and the Rise in Gun Violence at US Schools," will be published Jan. 30 by the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

The research team also found the rate of gun violence at schools has changed over time. The most recent period studied (2007-2013) has a higher frequency of incidents than the preceding one (1994-2007), contradicting previous work in this area. This is a unique contribution made possible because of the researchers' backgrounds in data science and modeling.

"Our work helps us understand why the frequency of gun violence at schools changes, not necessarily why gun violence at schools in the United States exists at all," said Amaral, professor of chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering.

In the last 25 years, there have been two elevated periods of gun violence at U.S. schools, the researchers found; 2007-2013 was largely due to events at postsecondary schools while 1992-1994 more often involved events at K-12 schools.

The Northwestern study stands apart from earlier studies on gun violence in U.S. schools by bringing into play knowledge about the school-to-work transition in American society.

"Once we consider how important schools are to American ideas about economic opportunity and upward mobility, we can better understand why school settings are revealed in our research as focal points of violent responses to increased unemployment," said Hagan, who also is a research professor at the American Bar Foundation. "Prior research about gun violence in schools has not adequately analyzed these connections."

How the study was conducted

There have been a number of other studies on this topic, but the previous data sources used were incomplete and biased in their coverage of the school shooting events, Pah said. Also, the definition of gun violence at school varied among creators of these datasets.

Pah collected these previously used data sets and collated them into a single data set. He and undergraduate and graduate student co-authors then individually sourced and read reports for each event to make sure it was actually an incident of gun violence at a school. The process yielded 379 events meeting the researchers' strict criteria, and two additional events were found, for a total of 381 events for the final data set.

"We spent days doing nothing but reading about violence at schools, which is quite possibly the saddest thing I've had to do for research," Pah said.

The researchers focused on all gun violence at schools, not only mass shootings. They used the following criteria for an event to be included in the study: (1) the shooting must involve a firearm being discharged, even if by accident; (2) it must occur on a school campus; and (3) it must involve students or school employees, either as perpetrators, bystanders or victims.

Next, the researchers evaluated the timing of these events against multiple indicators of economic distress, including unemployment, the foreclosure rate and consumer confidence. They then hypothesized that increased school shootings are a response to increasing unemployment and tested that hypothesis in two additional ways.

The results strongly support the hypothesis that a breakdown in the school-to-work transition contributes to an increase in gun violence in U.S. schools, the authors write.
-end-
In addition to Pah (lead author), Amaral (corresponding author) and Hagan, other authors of the paper are undergraduate students Andrew Jennings and Aditya Jain and graduate students Kat Albrecht and Adam Hockenberry, all of Northwestern.

Northwestern University

Related Violence Articles:

Where climate change is most likely to induce food violence
While climate change is expected to lead to more violence related to food scarcity, new research suggests that the strength of a country's government plays a vital role in preventing uprisings.
New study shows youth violence on decline
Contrary to popular perception, a new study by Boston University professor Christopher Salas- Wright finds that youth violence is declining -- and at noteworthy rates.
Self-harm linked to violence towards others
There is a link between self-harm and the risk of violent criminality, according to a Swedish registry study carried out by researchers at Karolinska Institutet and published in the scientific journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Join forces to reduce US violence, says UK expert
Violence in the US can be reduced if police and health agencies join forces, says a leading UK expert.
Reducing severe violence among adolescents
A special section of the journal Child Development includes new research exploring severe youth violence.
The connection between child marriage and domestic violence
A new study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology indicates that women across 34 countries are at increased risk for domestic violence if they marry before age 15.
Tampon makers could help reduce violence against women
Manufacturers of feminine hygiene products, including tampons and sanitary products, could dedicate a part of their revenues to support public health programmes that prevent violence against women, argues an expert in The BMJ this week.
Conference on gender and social violence
An international conference entitled A gender prospective on social violence will be held in Rome, Italy on Tuesday 21 June.
Is firearm violence greater among the mentally ill?
A new study finds that the majority of mental health professionals believe firearm safety issues are greater among mentally ill people, yet they do not screen their clients for firearms or provide firearm safety counseling.
Are money problems and violence related?
University of Iowa researchers find an association between financials stress and severe domestic abuse, but the discovery doesn't prove one leads to the other.

Related Violence Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...