Siting the Death Penalty Internationally


  • David F. Greenberg is Professor of Sociology at New York University.

    Valerie West is Assistant Professor of Law and Police Science at John Jay College.

    Direct correspondence to the first author at We are grateful to Slawomir Redo, James Galbraith, Robert Barro, Michael Ross, Maria Stylianidou, Margaret Lewis, and Jaw-perng Wang for assistance with data acquisition; to Margaret Lewis for a translation from Chinese; and to Mikaela Arthur, Vanessa Barker, Aaron Beim, Christian Boulanger, Michela Bowman, Stephanos Bibas, Neil Caren, Vivek Chibber, Theodore Christianson, Deborah Denno, Thomas Ertmann, David Garland, Evi Girling, Maria Los, Gerald Marwell, Dario Melossi, Rene Römkens, Joachim Savelsberg, Mildred Schwartz, Franklin Zimring, and the anonymous referees for helpful questions, comments, and suggestions. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association in Anaheim, California and the Law and Society Association in Budapest, Hungary, both in 2001.


We examine sources of variation in possession and use of the death penalty using data drawn from 193 nations in order to test theories of punishment. We find the death penalty to be rooted in a country's legal and political systems, and to be influenced by its religious traditions. A country's level of economic development, its educational attainment, and its religious composition shape its political institutions and practices, indirectly affecting its use of the death penalty. The article concludes by discussing likely future trends.