A new report tracks violence and incarceration rates across America's states and metros.

The United States is significantly less violent and more peaceful than it used to be, according to the United States Peace Index 2012 from the Institute for Economics and Peace. The State Peace Index is based on five factors: the homicide rate, violent crime rate, incarceration rate, police presence, and availability of small arms.

That said, the U.S. remains significantly less peaceful than other advanced nations, according to the report. It is one of only two OECD nations that are not among the top 50 most peaceful nations in the world. As the reports notes, "this is primarily the result of having the world’s highest incarceration rate, as well as extensive military spending and involvement in multiple military campaigns.”

America does perform better than the OECD average on two of five global peace indicators: violent crime and police presence. Still, violence costs the U.S. economy an estimated $460 billion a year, or $3,217 per taxpayer (including direct and indirect costs), according the the report.

The map below by Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute (based on data from the report) shows where states fall on the Index. The higher its score, the less peaceful a state is.

(Click the map for a larger image)

The good news is over the past year, a majority of states, 35 of 50, became more peaceful. However, there is substantial geographic variation. New England ranks as the nation’s most peaceful region with the lowest scores; Maine is the nation’s most peaceful state, followed by New Hampshire and Vermont. Minnesota and Utah are fourth and fifth; North Dakota, Washington, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Iowa round out the top ten.  

Louisiana is the least peaceful state on the State Peace Index, followed by Tennessee, Nevada, Florida, and Arizona. Missouri, Texas, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Mississippi round out the ten least peaceful states.

(Click the map for a larger image)

The second map, above, charts the Institute's Metro Peace Index across the United States. The brand new Metropolitan Peace Index covers 61 metros and is based on four of the five factors in the State Peace Index: the homicide rate, violent crime rate, incarceration rate, and police presence. The availability of small arms was not included because data are unavailable

Cambridge, Massachusetts, tops the list as the most peaceful metro, followed by Edison-New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Seattle, Washington. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, and Peabody, Massachusetts, rank fourth and fifth. Providence, Rhode Island, Lake County-Kenosha County, Illinois-Wisconsin, Nassau-Suffolk, New York, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Portland, Oregon, round out the top ten. The least peaceful metros were Detroit, New Orleans, and Miami.

The report includes correlations for a range of economic, social, and demographic factors, including poverty, income inequality, education levels, infant mortality, and teen pregnancy, among others. With the help of my MPI colleague Charlotta Mellander, I ran a few of my own. As usual, I point out that correlation does not imply causation. Still, the findings point to a number of interesting patterns.

Two factors that stand out are poverty and inequality. Higher levels of violence and lower levels of peace are closely associated with both, at the state and metro levels. The report finds one of the very highest correlations between lack of peace and the percentage of children living in single parent households.

Education also plays a role. Levels of peace are higher and violence lower in places with higher rates of both college and high school graduates. At the metro level, the report finds levels of peace to be higher in places with higher concentrations of the creative class.

States with higher levels of social capital have higher levels of peace and less violence as well, according to the report.

The report found close associations between peace and several key indicators of community health, including, not surprisingly, life expectancy. But levels of peace are significantly lower in states where greater percentages of people lack health insurance. And, the report finds especially strong correlations between the lack of peace at the state level and higher levels of teen pregnancy and infant mortality.

Our own analysis suggests that religion plays a role as well. We find a considerable negative correlation between the State Peace Index and the share of state residents that are "very religious" (according to Gallup surveys). Counter-intuitively perhaps, the more religious a state is, the less peaceful it is.

We also found modest associations between peace at the state level and political orientation, with levels of peace being higher in states that voted for President Barack Obama and lower in states that voted for Senator John McCain.

If the Peace Index brings some welcome news about diminishing levels of violence, it also confirms that America is divided not just by income, education, and political orientation, but by the incidence of peace and violence.

Below, a full list of the Metro Peace Index by rank:

1. Cambridge-Newton-Framingham, MA 
2. Edison-New Brunswick- NJ
3. Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA
4. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
5. Peabody, MA
6. Providence-New Bedford-Fall River RI-MA
7. Lake County-Kenosha County, IL-WI
8. Nassau-Suffolk, NY
9. Salt Lake City, UT
10. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA
11. Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, MI
12. Tacoma, WA
13. Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT
14. Camden, NJ
15. Raleigh-Cary, NC
16. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
17. Pittsburgh, PA
18. Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA 
19. Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN
20. Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ
21. Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY
22. Richmond, VA 23. Columbus, OH
24. Newark-Union, NJ-PA
25. Bethesda-Frederick-Gaithersburg, MD
26. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA
27. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allise, WI
28. Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH
29. Boston-Quincy, MA
30. Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport, VA-NC
31. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
32. Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL 
33. Birmingham-Hoover, AL
34. Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX
35. Sacramento-Arden Arcade-Roseville, CA 36. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA
37. St. Louis, MO-IL
38. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
39. Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 
40. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
41  Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX 2.45 1.77 
42. Oklahoma City, OK
43. San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA
44. New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ
45. San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX
46. Kansas City, MO-KS
47. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL
48. West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Boynton Beach, FL 
49. Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA
50. Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN
51. Philadelphia, PA
52.  Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL
53. Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC
54. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA
55. Jacksonville, FL
56. Las Vegas-Paradise NV
57. Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown, TX
58. Baltimore-Towson, MD
59. Miami-Miami Beach-Kendal, FL
60. New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA
61. Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, MI

Top image: Reuters/Brian Snyder

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. POV

    Why the Future Looks Like Pittsburgh

    The city’s rise as a global innovation city reflects decades of investment in emerging technology, a new Brookings report says.

  2. Charts

    The Evolution of Urban Planning in 10 Diagrams

    A new exhibit from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association showcases the simple visualizations of complex ideas that have changed how we live.

  3. Equity

    What the New Urban Anchors Owe Their Cities

    Corporations like Google and Amazon reap the spoils of winner-take-all urbanism. Here’s how they can also bear greater responsibility.

  4. Design

    Why Copenhagen Is Building Parks That Can Turn Into Ponds

    Instead of massive sewer expansion to prepare for climate change, the city chose something cheaper—and more fun.

  5. Black and white West Charlotte High School students pose together in and around their school bus in 1972.

    How America's Most Integrated School Segregated Again

    A new book tracks how a Charlotte, North Carolina, high school went from an integration success story to the city’s most isolated and impoverished school.