Mexico’s Murder Rate Is so High It Has Altered the Life Expectancy of Men

The murder rate in Mexico is now so high it has altered the overall life expectancy of men living there. By analyzing cause-of-death data from the Mexican Institute of Statistics, researchers have discovered the staggering impact homicide is having on the nation—with the murder rate between 2005 and 2015 rising by 53 percent compared to the decade before.

A team from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that in the state of Chihuahua, 8,943 men between the ages of 15 and 50 were killed over 2010 and 2011. That's nearly three times the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2006.

Life expectancy in Mexico has steadily increased since the 1940s. However, recent data indicates it has started to stagnate.

The latest study, published in American Journal of Public Health, looks at life expectancy data over 20 years. In the decade between 1995 and 2005, life expectancy for men at the age of 15 rose from 57.08 years to 58.25 years. Over the following 10 years, life expectancy for men at the age of 15 only rose by half a year—a slowdown that has been directly attributed to a surge in murders, as the government's “war on drugs” with cartels spills over to the civilian population.

The researchers believe any increases in life expectancy being experienced by men in Mexico are being offset by the escalating murder rate.

"This study confirms that homicide is so widespread that even when considering all causes of death, it stands out as a factor in slowing growth in men's life expectancy,” Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, co-author of the study, said in a statement. The team also found there was a “temporary reversal” in the average life expectancy between 2005 and 2010.

Findings show that almost every state experienced a reduction in life expectancy because of murder, with Guerrero showing the biggest drop—in this Mexican state, life expectancy was reduced by almost two years between 2005 and 2010.

In the paper, researchers argue authorities have “failed to recognize and correct the detrimental consequences in health and human rights that suppressive and drug-prohibition policies have had on the population.”

They say current policies that focus on military action against the drug cartels are not working—and that a focus on education and community programs is more likely to reduce the risk of violence, as has been seen in other countries.

The research follows a report by Mexico's Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection that showed there were over 33,000 murders in Mexico in 2018—the highest number since records began. Over the year, 33,341 murder investigations were opened across the country. That is a 15 percent increase on 2017, where 25,036 homicides were reported. Guanajuato was found to have the most murders, with 3,290 homicides.

"If the number of homicides continue to increase it is likely that they will still have an impact on life expectancy," Beltrán-Sánchez told Newsweek. "So far there does not seem to be signs of a decline in homicides.... There is an urgent need to replace current policies with policies that are less focused on military actions against drug cartels."

This article has been updated to show life expectancy estimates are based on when men are aged 15. According to 2016 data from the World Health Organization, the life expectancy of men in Mexico is 73.9.

mexico murder rates
A member of the Forensic Services and Forensic Sciences Laboratory of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Chihuahua, works with an acrylic reproduction of a human skull in Ciudad Juarez, in Chihuahua state, Mexico, on October 9, 2018. Mexico’s homicide rate increased drastically between 2005 and 2015. Herika Martinez/AFP