Swedish Murder Rate

By Matthew Yglesias

This Foreign Policy article on Steig Larsson and the decline of the Swedish utopia concludes with what seems to me to be a whopper of a factual error:

If you look at the statistics, Sweden is not a particularly violent country, nor a particularly lenient one to criminals. It is in about the middle of the European averages for both figures. There were 230 homicides in Sweden in 2009, compared with 143 in Washington, D.C., which has a population a bit more than half Sweden’s size. But compare these figures to what they were in the years when Sweden looked like a utopia. In 1990, there were 120 homicides in Sweden, and 472 in Washington. There is a convergence here that doesn’t flatter Sweden.

In fact, there are 9.3 million people in Sweden and only 600,000 in Sweden. In other words, Sweden has about fifteen times the population of Washington DC and less than half the murders. Stockholm is a bit larger than DC, and its murder rate of 3 per 100,000 in 2009 is way lower than DC’s murder rate of 24 per 100,000. And indeed you can see that the relatively low level of violent crime in Sweden is a necessary backdrop for the plot of Larsson’s books. In The Girl Who Played With Fire a triple-murder in Stockholm becomes a major news story that dominates nationwide media attention for several days.


Sorry, Sweden has fifteen times the population of DC and twice the murders, not half the murders. The point, however, is that the murder rate in DC is dramatically lower than either the overall Sweden murder rate or the Stockholm murder rate. It seems clear that the author of the piece meant to refer to the population of the overall Washington DC metropolitan area but if that’s what he wants to talk about then he needs to add up the total number of murders in that area.

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