Updated: 16.1.2017 - Next update: 15.1.2018

Homicides have decreased since the second half of the 1990s

According to cause of death data, 70 persons were killed in homicides in Finland in 2015. The number was lowest since 1895. The mortality rate relative to the population, 1.28 victims per 100,000 population, was the lowest recorded since 1782 and the fifth lowest during the compilation of statistics on causes of death that started in 1754. However, statistics from the 18th century are considerably more unreliable than the present statistics, so in reality, the level of homicides in recent years has been lowest throughout our known criminal history. On account of the declining homicide trend starting from the 1990s, mainly homicides committed by men against both men and women have decreased. In earlier decades and centuries, changes in the level of total homicides have followed changes in the volume of male violence. Changes in homicides committed by women have been small in recent decades.

Especially homicides involving men have decreased in recent years. The changes in the level of total homicides have fluctuated in past decades and centuries in the same way as homicides involving men. The sharpest changes in levels have generally been explained by changes in the number of acts of violence between young men. However, in recent years homicides have diminished the most among middle-aged men and women. The drop in the level of crimes (committed a crime) has been the sharpest among young and middle-aged men. Among women, the changes in crime figures have been marginal.

In terms of homicides, the most violent period in Finland's more recent history took place from 1905 when there was a Mass Strike to when the prohibition on alcohol was lifted in 1932. At the time, the number of people killed per capita was triple the numbers we see today. Another somewhat shorter peak in violence took place just after World War II, from 1945 to 1947. By contrast, the least violent period on record was from the late 1950s to the end of the 1960s. The level of homicides was one third lower at the time than in these past decades. Another period of relatively high levels of homicides started in 1969, when the great alcohol reform was introduced. Since the late 1990s, the number of homicides in Finland has decreased again. There has been a similar trend elsewhere in Europe. The drop in the level of homicides has been slightly faster in Finland than in the rest of the European Economic Area on average. One of the reasons for the fall in the level of crimes is the ageing of the population, which accounts for 10 to 25% of the overall change in the level of homicides.

Despite their decreased numbers, the general profile of homicides remains unchanged. A typical homicide involves a killing in a private home during a drinking spree that erupts into a dispute. The weapon is a kitchen knife and the crime is committed at the weekend. The perpetrator and the victim know each other well, are middle-aged, live alone, are socially excluded alcoholic men who have a track record of sentences for acts of violence. At the time of the crime, the parties involved have a blood alcohol level that is between and three parts per thousand.

Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy

Description of indicator

The indicator describes the trend in mortality due to homicide for women, men and the whole population in ten-year periods from 1760 to the present day. The number of victims (excluding infanticide) is proportioned to the population: mortality is expressed as the annual number of victims per 100,000 people. Indicator data has been gathered by the National Research Institute of Legal Policy from information published by the Finnish criminologist Veli Verkko and Statistics Finland.

In addition to Finland, Sweden is the only country in the world where comparable data are available on homicide trends for such a long period. For this, thanks are due to the Kingdom of Sweden’s population statistics system, in which information on mortalities due to intentional violence has been recorded since 1754. Information for the 1700s and early 1800s is rather incomplete. According to studies by Ylikangas and Sirén, the number of victims given in this information is 30–50% lower than the likely actual numbers. At present, the number of homicides registered in statistics on the cause of death is around 10% lower than the likely actual figure.