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Parricide rates and criminal street violence in the United States: is there a correlation?

Megargee (1982) has suggested that family violence is fundamentally different from general violence and should be examined separately. Street criminals use violence in a deliberate, hedonistic way to gain material goods, status, and other social reinforcements, whereas violent family offenders are psychologically distressed and marked by rage. Acts of intrafamilial violence, according to Megargee, are special cases that must be understood through family-based theories.

One form of intrafamilial violence that has attracted little research attention is child-to-parent violence (Gelles, 1982). Parricide, the killing of one's mother or father, is an especially neglected topic (Ewing, 1990). Perhaps this is due to its relative infrequency; it accounts for less than 2% of all homicides in the United States (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1988). Patricide, the killing of one's father, accounts for less than 1% of all homicides, while matricide, the killing of one's mother, accounts for a slightly lower percentage. Most of the research on parricide is based on clinical case studies, and tends to emphasize a common theme: parricide is often a response to long-standing child abuse (Ewing, 1990). Sadoff (1971), for example, has concluded that, in most cases of parricide, "a bizarre neurotic relationship exists between the victim and his assassin in which the parent-victim mistreats the child excessively and pushes him to the point of explosive violence".


These studies raise the question: Are the rates for parricide and criminal violence in the United States correlated? A positive correlation might suggest that whatever factors affect the criminal violence rate similarly affect the parricide rate. A negative correlation, however, would support Megargee's hypothesis that family violence, such as parricide, cannot be understood by using general explanations of criminal violence. To examine this issue, parricide and criminal violence rates in the United States were obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 1977-1988.


The mean rates per 100,000 population (and standard deviations) were as follows: parricide = 0.14 (SD = .02), patricide = 0.08 (SD = .01), matricide = 0.06 (SD = .01), criminal violence = 588 (SD = 50.5). Clearly, parricide and its subtypes were relatively infrequent, as suggested earlier. A moderately strong, negative correlation was observed for parricide and criminal violence rates (r = -.59, p = .02). The rates for patricide and matricide also correlated negatively with criminal violence rates, although the latter Pearson correlation coefficient was nonsignificant (r = -.62, p = .02, and r = .19, p = .28, respectively).

Generally, these findings support Megargee's hypothesis. Since parricide rates correlated negatively with criminal violence rates, it appears that whatever factors affect one do not similarly affect the other.


Ewing, C. P. (1990). When children kill. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1977-1988). Uniform crime reports. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Gelles, R. J. (1982). Domestic criminal violence. In M. Wolfgang & N. A. Weiner (Eds.), Criminal violence. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Megargee, E. I. (1982). Psychological determinants and correlates of criminal violence. In M. Wolfgang & N. A. Weiner (Eds.), Criminal violence. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Sadoff, R. L. (1971). Clinical observations on parricide. Psychiatric Quarterly, 45, 65-69.
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Author:Young, Thomas J.
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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