The dramatic decline of rapes and sexual assaults

I stumbled upon this post from Angus Johnston about the significant decline in the incidence of rape. He claims that the incidence of rape has declined 88% since 1973. I do not doubt his figures, but the resource he linked to has been moved. In my search, I could not quickly find numbers prior to 1994, but the 1994-2010 numbers will suffice here.

According to National Crime Victimization Survey — an annual survey that samples the population directly — the rate of female rape or sexual assault victimizations has declined by 58% between 1994 and 2010. In 1994, 5 in 1000 females above the age of 12 answered that they had been raped or sexually assaulted that year. In 2010, the number was 2.1 in 1000, or 0.21%. These figures include completed, threatened, and attempted rapes and sexual assaults.

The decline held for basically all demographic breakdowns, age, race, and otherwise, but there is still a significant difference between rates of victimization for different groups. Poor females, black females, rural females, and young females faced the highest levels of victimization for which the survey yielded reliable data.

During the 1995-2010 period, males accounted for 9% of all victims in the survey, and in 2010, 0.1 in 1000 males were victimized (compared to 2.1 in 1000 females for that year). Females were the main emphasis of the report because the rate of male victimization was so low that reliably breaking down the numbers more finely was not possible.

However you break it down, the decline appears to be quite dramatic. That opens up speculation as to what the cause of this decline has been. Angus Johnston’s theory is that “feminism works.” While it is obvious that feminism does indeed work, the case for feminism being at the root of this change is a bit murkier. After all, violent crime rates have been falling across the board. As Johnston points out in his post, since the 1970s, “robbery is down 69%, assault by 62%, theft by 74%.” Unless those drops are also attributable to feminism, it would seem like the decline of rapes and sexual assaults is just part of the overall trend.

Of course, that’s impossible to say for sure. As far as I can tell, there is still no settled theory as to why crime has dropped off in the past few decades so dramatically. It is possible that the decline in rapes and sexual assaults is caused by something (e.g. feminism) that is totally different from the similar drops in the incidence of other kinds of crime. Maybe the decline in each crime category has its own unique cause even. I don’t know. However, outside of some sort of strong evidence, it seems a bit stretched to break out one criminal category from a whole class of crimes that have all been dramatically falling, and then attach to it a cause that is totally different from all of the others.

Ultimately, I suppose the cause does not necessarily matter so much. That yearly incidences of sexual assaults and rapes have been cut in half in 16 years is an incredible success. I had no idea that it had declined that much.

Women’s labor force participation across different countries

The New York Times had a very good Sunday piece from Stephanie Coontz called Why Gender Equality Stalled. Much of the piece is dedicated to highlighting the ways in which our economic institutions force women to make hard choices about labor force attachment. Throughout the piece, Coontz makes comparisons between the United States and other countries. So I thought it would be helpful to compare women’s labor force participation against men’s labor force participation for all of the countries that the FRED database has data for.

Basically what I have done is divided each country’s female labor force participation rate by its male labor force participation rate. So for example, if the female labor force participation rate was 7% and the male labor force participation rate was 10%, on this graph that would show up as 0.7. Using a ratio like this better captures how egalitarian labor force participation is in a given country. The higher the line is, the more equal female labor participation is to male labor participation.

To figure out what country is represented by each line, look to the legend on the bottom right. In particular, look at the first 3 letters of each line. Those are country codes. So DEU, the green line, is Germany. NLD is Netherlands. CAN is Canada, ITA is Italy, FRA is France, SWE is Sweden, GBR is Great Britian, AUS is Australia, and JPN is Japan. The bolder blue line is the United States.

So what does this graph tell us? Well it tells us that most of the countries have converged on a female labor force participation rate (FLP) that is just above 80% of the male labor force participation rate (MLP). The exceptions on the high end are Sweden and Canada, who have a FLP/MLP that is closer to 90%, and the exceptions on the low end are Italy and Japan who have a FLP/MLP that is in the 65-70% range.

I thought this graph might be a helpful supplement to Coontz piece, which is why I am posting it here. It helps work through some of the claims being made. I wont go through all of them here, but I will cover one. Coontz writes:

Women’s labor-force participation in the United States also leveled off in the second half of the 1990s, in contrast to its continued increase in most other countries.

This appears to be true. The bold blue line that represents the United States only barely inches up after 1995, while most of the other lines on the graph have moved up quite a bit since 1995. It is not clear however how significant this is because in 1995, the US was already ahead of most of the others. The other countries continued marching forward, but they did not march way past the US: they simply caught up. For a comparison, look at Sweden (the orange line at the top). Their FLP/MLP hasn’t increased since around 1987. When you are already nearer to full gender parity than every other country — as Sweden was and still is — it is necessarily harder to increase gender parity at a rate that is higher than other countries that have a more unequal starting point.

How many trans people are there?

I was curious about this question and in my search for an answer, I found this Williams Institute report, which appears to be the best summary of the various surveys and estimates out there. The other literature on this question pegs the percent of the adult population who identify as transgender between 0.1% and 0.5%. After reviewing this literature, the authors of this report average two prior surveys — one from California and one from Massachusetts — and end up estimating that around 0.3% of the US adult population identifies as transgender.