Does Inequality breed Crime?

– Udita Dutta, Programme Officer

Is there a relationship between crime rates and inequality? Let me make an attempt at answering this. Crime is an offence which harms individuals as well as society and is punishable by law. On the other hand, inequality is a state where a section of the society enjoys more benefits than the rest. Gurgaon, the least safe city, tops the Crime Index of India. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported that the rape rates in our National Capital, i.e. Delhi, have increased by almost 350 per cent since 2012! The NCRB report of 2012 says that Bangalore ranks second in the criterion of crime prone city. Crimes against women have tremendously increased among the six North-Eastern states, as reported by NCRB during 2014. If you peep through the records of NCRB, you will notice that different sorts of violent crimes have increased in India.  At the same time, inequality in India is also very high and is increasing. Mumbai, being the financial capital as well as the slum capital of India reflects the true picture of inequality.  The data, as given by the Planning Commission, shows that inequality has amplified over the years.

A glance through the data of both crime rates and inequality reveals an apparent relationship between the two. The influential Economists, Hirschman and Rothschild (1973) came up with the concept of tolerance for inequality in income distribution. According to them, heterogeneous societies like India, Pakistan etc. have low tolerance for inequality compared to homogenous societies like Mexico. Despite having a high level of tolerance for inequality, a group of individuals in Mexico revolted against inequality which led to the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968. Therefore if a country has high income inequality, then the incidence of crime in that country is likely to be higher. Due to unequal distribution of resources, the lower strata of society are deprived of most of the benefits which the privileged classes enjoy, thereby widening the income gap between the rich and the poor. Even the poor have a tolerance level and when this disadvantageous section of the society crosses its tolerance threshold, there is a possibility of them resorting to crime perhaps in an attempt to correct their perception of existing societal injustice.

I have included the economically backward states or the BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) states along with the capital city, Delhi to find out whether there exists any relationship between crimes and inequality. The above mentioned states are demographically, culturally, politically, economically and socially different from each other. Owing to the formation of the newly formed states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand, that were previously part of states like Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the time period chosen under the study was 2001-2009 for the BIMARU states and 1993-2009 for Delhi. Since Gini Coefficient data for inequality, which is arrived at by NSSO (National Survey Sample Organisation), is not available annually, the actual trends cannot be studied.



The above figure shows that inequality in Bihar has increased from 0.198 in 2004 to 0.225 in 2009. On the other hand, the murder rates have fallen between 2001 and 2009.As inequality was increasing, the kidnapping rates also amplified. It is clear from the above diagram that the incidence of theft has increased steadily from 2001 to 2009.

Madhya Pradesh


The above diagram illustrates that inequality in Madhya Pradesh has increased from 0.267 in 2004 to 0.3 in 2009. On the other hand, the murder rates have been fluctuating, but even after falling for a few years, the number is still high. The number of kidnappings has increased along with inequality. The theft rates were volatile in nature too. However, over time, the number of thefts has increased in Madhya Pradesh.



Inequality in Rajasthan increased from 0.227 in 2004 to 0.237 in 2009. Simultaneously, murder rates and number of kidnappings have also increased since 2006 in Rajasthan. Robbery rates are increasing steadily over time along with inequality in Rajasthan.

Uttar Pradesh


Inequality rates in Uttar Pradesh rose very sharply from 0.255 to 0.413. On the other hand, murder rates have steadily declined since 2005. Kidnapping rates had reduced till 2003, but from 2005 they have also been continuously increasing along with inequality. Overall theft rates have continuously increased since 2006.



Inequality in Delhi has risen sharply from 0.209 in 1993 to 0.343 in 2009. Till 1999 murder rates were increasing. Post 1999 the rates started to decline and then started rising again from 2006. Kidnapping rates rose steeply in Delhi. The number of incidences of kidnapping in 1993 was 817 from where it rose to 2536 in 2009. In 1998 theft rates were the highest. Thereafter the rates started to decline; but from 2008 there was an upward trend in the theft rates.

Are Inequality and Crime interlinked?

As per the above mentioned apparent relationships between crimes and inequality, it can be explicitly stated that the BIMARU states and Delhi are increasingly experiencing inequality. Among all these states, Uttar Pradesh has the highest degree of inequality. During 2004-09 the increase in inequality is also highest in Uttar Pradesh.

Incidence of murder has been higher than that of kidnappings in states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh. During 1993-2009 all crime rates have increased in Delhi. Among the BIMARU states, Uttar Pradesh has performed better than the rest in terms of the reduction of crime rates. Madhya Pradesh is the worst performing state among the BIMARU states with respect to criminal activities. In all the states except Rajasthan and Delhi, murder rates have fallen over time. Kidnapping rates have amplified over the years in all the states. In the case of Delhi, both crime and inequality have increased at the same time. Inequality rates in Uttar Pradesh have increased tremendously but at the same time crimes like murders have decreased.

At the beginning, I was trying to find an answer to the question – is there any inter-linkage between crime and inequality? I think that the high inequality figures are merely a reflection of the disparity of income levels between the privileged and the non-privileged classes. Any economy to truly thrive and shift to a higher growth trajectory requires a serious look at these widening disparities.

Here I must also clarify that the above analysis does not establish a clear link between crime and inequality. Thus, I am left with another question: Is this a mere co-incidence or is there a causality?


The incidence of different types of crimes like Murders, Kidnappings & thefts have been standardised to population. For example, the incidence of murder in Bihar has been standardised to Bihar population. Thus, ‘Std’ stands for standardised. Standardisation makes the comparison between any two states more valid since you are comparing them on the same scale.

Murders, Kidnappings & thefts have been plotted on the same graph. The incidence of thefts was much higher than that of murders & kidnappings. Thus, in order to depict the trends properly, thefts is represented through the primary axis (left) and murders & kidnappings are represented through the secondary axis (right).


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