The mild wild west

Posted on May 21, 2012 by


Welcome to Williston, North Dakota, one of the tamest places in the U.S.A, and one in the midst of a massive oil boom. Overun with rough men working in stressful conditions, living in “man camps”, and with few women on site or in sight, this is an unlikely peaceful town. Especially if you’re a woman.

Despite the fact that women here are outnumbered 80:1, or thereabouts, there hasn’t been a rape reported here in six months and the rate is lower than the national average (although higher than the average for their state). That means that they have a surprisingly low rate of rape for a town so awash in testosterone. Contrast this with college towns, with their lack of men and elevated rates of violence against women.

So what’s the deal?

Let’s look at a map of the sex ratios by county:

— Source: US Dept. of Interior National Atlas

For comparison, here is a map of the population ratios by county:

— Source: Census Data

Notice something? Sex ratios tend to be higher in more sparsely-populated areas, whereas women flock to densely-populated areas. As crime tends to be worse in urban areas, this means that areas with higher sex ratios tend to be more rural and therefore also safer. Get that? Areas with more men than women are less dangerous than areas with more women than men.

Although men commit the majority of violent crimes in both high and low sex ratio areas, there’s something about low sex ratios that seems to lead to greater violence among men. Perhaps higher female promiscuity and infidelity? Lower marriage rates? Ethnic composition? Lower median-age? Lower religiosity? Higher unemployment and poverty? I don’t know the cause; I can only point to a correlation.

It turns out that specifically rape rates are lower where sex ratios are higher, even when taking population-density into account (Austin and Birmingham have similar population sizes, for example). I.e. more men != more rapes — the opposite effect than common knowledge would suggest, as the idea is that the men are then sex-deprived and rabid. I posit that women are less desperate and risk-taking in places with high sex ratios, and their higher value to their mates would increase the opportunity cost of approaching them.

I’ve suspected this for a while because of my own experiences in places with high and low sex ratios, but I’ve never bothered to do the data combing before. Obviously, I’m not a statistician and this is all just a rough analysis, but it’s interesting for forming a hypothesis, nonetheless. And that hypothesis would be that in high sex ratio areas, the men are more afraid of each other and the women are better-behaved and more sheltered, which leads to less violence against women. I also suspect that women are more afraid of being raped in areas with high sex ratios, as large groups of men are intimidating, which might alter their behavior further by making them more cautious.

Below I use the ratio data for 2000 and the FBI crime data for 2009 to show the vast difference in rape rates between the nine areas with the highest sex ratios, and the nine with the lowest ones. I threw out one data point in each set, as there wasn’t reliable crime data for it (too small?). The US average is 0.27.

City Ratio 2000 Rate/1k 2009
Salinas, CA 113.7 0.16
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 110 0.45
Santa Ana, CA 107.7 0.27
Tempe, AZ 106.9 0.29
Wichita Falls, TX 106.2 0.42
Sunnyvale, CA 106 0.19
Austin, TX 105.8 0.34
Costa Mesa, CA 105 0.31
Oxnard, CA 104.6 0.27
Gary, IN 84.6 0.49
Birmingham, AL 85.7 0.87
Philadelphia, PA 86.8 0.62
Jackson, MS 86.9 0.58
Richmond, VA 87.1 0.21
Shreveport, LA 87.4 0.61
Baltimore, MD 87.4 0.43
Mobile, AL 87.8 0.31
New Orleans, LA 88.2 0.27

Here I have it in a visual format, with the average rape rate for the high ratio and low ratio areas. As you can see, the effect is statistically significant.

This is all very interesting from a purely informational point of view, but I find it important for another reason. The War on Drugs, and the resulting astronomical incarceration rates, has sharply skewed the sex ratios downward in many American communities. It is possible, based upon my hypothesis, that locking up large portions of men actually makes women less safe in the end by changing the community’s sexual dynamic. This would go some way toward explaining the high rates of promiscuity and sexual violence in majority-black (all also majority-female) areas.

Sex-ratios that skew strongly in the other direction are also problematic, but the ideal ratio seems to be the natural one of slightly more men than women (105).

Update: Forbes has come out with a related article entitled The Most Dangerous U.S. Cities For Women. The cities listed in it all have significantly more women than men, other than Fairbanks, Alaska (which has a high rate of indigenous residents, who have an astronomical rape rate everywhere).

Posted in: Relationships