Countries with greater workforce equality have higher murder rates, a new Baylor University study suggests. While greater gender equality does not cause an increase in homicides, the results indicate a definite correspondence.

“To the extent that high status jobs or employment in general are considered limited, men may view women as direct competitors for positions and thus perceive women’s increasing economic attainment as directly threatening,” explained Dr. Katie Corcoran, a fellow in Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion and associate professor of sociology and anthropology at West Virginia University.

Yet, there's an upside to Corcoran's new research. Her results also indicated countries that generally show women more respect have lower overall homicide rates.

“Women being treated with more respect and dignity may be a reflection of fewer patriarchal beliefs condoning violence,” noted Corcoran when presenting her study to the American Sociological Association.

Employment Equality vs. Cultural Equality?

To conduct her analysis, Corcoran relied on homicide data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) between the years 2005 and 2011. She noted that a breakdown of the homicide rate by gender, for both victims and perpetrators, is available in very few countries, primarily Western ones.

Next, she gathered social and economic data from the 2009-2011 waves of the Gallup World Polls (GWP), a regularly occurring survey of 1,000 adult residents, for 146 countries. GWP collects data via telephone and face-to-face interviews, creating a nationally representative sample for each country. Specifically, Corcoran examined the number of adult females in the labor force and the ratio of females to males employed as professional workers, including managers and executives. To measure respect given to women in each country, Corcoran relied on the answers of GWP respondents when asked whether women in their country are treated with dignity. Both female and male responses tended to be consistent, she found.

“I theorized that gender equality should be associated with overall violent crime rates because gendered systems of inequality not only affect how males behave toward females but also how males interact with other males and how females interact with males and each other,” she wrote.

Investigating the data, she discovered both measures of equality — employment and cultural (in the form of respect and dignity) — had significant effects on homicide rates… but in opposite directions.

Cultural equality was negatively associated with homicide rates, while employment equality was positively associated with homicide rates. The most simple interpretation says men feel more threatened by women advancing in the labor market than by women being treated well.

Source: Corcoran KE. Gender Inequality and Cross-National Homicide: An Analysis of 146 Countries. ASA Conference. 2015.