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Education Reduced Crime in Mexico: Broader Welfare Can Do Even More

June 06, 2022
Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, Mauricio Rivera, and Barbara A. Zarate-Tenorio


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, Regis Professor of Political Science at the University of Essex,  Mauricio Rivera, a Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, and Barbara A. Zarate-Tenorio, a Visiting Researcher at the Norwegian Social Research Institute, explain how welfare programs could be the solution for rising violence in Mexico.

Many scholars have suggested that education can reduce crime, either by changing individual values or incentives, by integrating individuals more tightly into their communities, or by reducing exposure to opportunities for participating in crime. In a recent study, we find evidence that education can indeed reduce violent crime as measured by homicide rates, drawing on data from Mexico.

At first glance, Mexico might seem an odd case to study decreases in violence, given the widespread and severe violence arising from the so-called drug war, which followed a 2006 government initiative to crack down on drug trafficking and eliminate cultivation. Estimates suggest there were over 100,000 known organized crime-related homicides between 2007–2018, and more than 100,000 individuals reported missing. In 2015, the magazine National Interest described Mexico as a failed state.

Yet, the overall long-term trend in homicide in Mexico is on a dramatic decline. Data from the Mexican Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) demonstrate a clear decline in homicide rates since 1940—from a record high of 67 per 100,000 inhabitants to a low of 8.24 in 2007. Over this period, access to education expanded dramatically; whereas more than 40 percent of the population over 5 had not completed a single year of school in 1960, school attendance by children aged 6–14 exceeded 96 percent in 2015.

Declines in homicides can be driven by a host of social changes, including overall economic development and improvements in governance. But the key for Mexico was a reform that introduced compulsory secondary education in 1993.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.