Highly Cited Papers in SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

In this latest update to our ongoing blog series, we look at research contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a specific focus on SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

While the methods of conflict and violence have changed over the years, their devastating effects are still felt in force across the globe.

In his recent remarks to the UN’s Peacebuilding Commission, Secretary-General António Guterres said that two billion people – that’s one-quarter of humanity – live in conflict areas today. Guterres added that an estimated 84 million people were “forcibly displaced because of conflict, violence and human rights violations,” which is particularly relevant as the world watches the people of Ukraine flee Russian aggression. The World Bank also estimates that in 2030, if trends continue, more than half of the world’s poor will be living in countries affected by high levels of violence.

2030 is the same target date set for the culmination of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In just eight years, we could see either the dire progression of current conflict trends or the impact of the SDG framework upon the development of a sustainable future, expected to include the creation of just, peaceful and inclusive societies set out in SDG 16. Christine Smith-Simonsen, Associate Professor at the University of Tromsø, recently said about SDG 16, “it can be argued that the achievement of this one goal [peace] is a precondition for the success of the others.”

With that in mind, we jump forward to this important goal in our ongoing Sustainable Development Goals blog series. We explore the research happening across countries and disciplines focusing on peace, justice and strong institutions, and the most highly cited papers and topics in this area.


What is SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions?

SDG 16 focuses on fostering sustainable, peaceful and inclusive societies, and concerns all considerations related to the preservation and defense of human rights.

It includes 24 distinct targets that seek to reduce all forms of violence, corruption and injustice. Some of these targets include :

  • Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere
  • End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children
  • Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development


Criminology tops all other disciplines in SDG 16

Using InCites Benchmarking & Analytics™ we identified 25,798 publications that map to SDG 16 between 2015 and 2021. The top disciplines in this cohort include criminology, family studies, law, public environmental and occupational health, applied and clinical psychology, women’s studies, social sciences, international relations and social work, showing strong output overall in social and institutional research.


Top disciplines aligned with SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Source: InCites Benchmarking & Analytics


Securing peace and justice is a global effort

Publications on SDG 16 are issued all over the world. The top countries that published articles related to SDG 16 between 2015 and 2021 are the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Spain followed by Germany, Brazil, South Africa, the Netherlands and Mainland China. These studies are funded by major institutions around the world including the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health (NIH); the European Commission; U.K. Research Innovation and other government offices worldwide.


SDG 16 and Highly Cited Papers

Mass incarceration and racial health disparities

We next sought to uncover the authors with Highly Cited Papers™ relating to SDG 16.

The most cited paper with 301 citations is “Mass incarceration, public health, and widening inequality in the USA,” authored by Christopher Wildeman from Cornell University and Emily Wang from Yale School of Medicine.



This article examines how mass incarceration shapes inequality in health. The United States leads the world’s mass incarceration rate, which disproportionately affects Black Americans. Authors explore the ways that incarceration is detrimental to mental and physical health, not only of those in jail, but also of their families and especially their children.


“Mass incarceration contributes to racial health disparities in the USA across a range of outcomes because of its direct and indirect consequences for health, and the disproportionate concentration of incarceration among black communities. Because the USA incarcerates many more of its citizens than do other developed democracies, mass incarceration might have contributed to the country’s lagging performance on health indicators such as life expectancy.”

Christopher Wildeman and Emily Wang, “Mass incarceration, public health, and widening inequality in the USA”


“Police killings and their spillover effects on the mental health of Black Americans: a population-based, quasi-experimental study,” by Jacob Bor from Boston University School of Public Health Atheendar S Venkataramani from Pennsylvania University department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy; David Williams from Harvard University, Dept Social & Behavioral Sciences, and Alexander Rand Tsai from Massachusetts General Hospital division of Global Psychiatry.


This article received 281 citations since its publication in 2018. It examines how police killings of Black Americans affects the mental health of a wide-ranging group of people, not only those connected to the victim.  For example, the study found that nearly 40% of Black American respondents were exposed to one or more police killings of unarmed Black Americans in their state of residence in the three months prior to the survey. These killings have direct negative mental health effects not only for witnesses, but for the wider Black population in the United States.

The authors state the following:


“In our nationally representative, quasi-experimental study, police killings of unarmed black Americans had adverse effects on the mental health of black Americans in the general population. These findings bolster calls to more accurately measure police killings and provide an additional public health rationale to better understand and address the potential pathogenic effects of police killings of unarmed black Americans and other manifestations of structural racism in the USA.”

Jacob Bor, Atheendar S Venkataramani, David Williams and Alexander Rand Tsai, “Police killings and their spillover effects on the mental health of Black Americans: a population-based, quasi-experimental study”


Young men of color face highest risk of police use of force

The third most Highly Cited Paper is “Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race-ethnicity, and sex,” by Frank Edwards from Rutgers State University, School of Criminal Justice; Hedwig Lee from Washington University Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity and Michael Esposito from Washington University department of Sociology.



In this study, the authors use data on police-involved deaths to estimate the risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States across social groups, age, race and gender, using U.S. census identification .

The study found that Black women and men, , and Latino men face higher lifetime risk of being killed by police than do their white peers. The study also found that the risk is highest for Black men, who face about a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police. The authors state that:


“The risk of being killed by police is jointly patterned by one’s race, gender, and age. Police violence is a leading cause of death for young men, and young men of color face exceptionally high risk of being killed by police. Inequalities in risk are pronounced throughout the life course. This study reinforces calls to treat police violence as a public health issue.”

Frank Edwards, Hedwig Lee and Michael Esposito, “Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race-ethnicity, and sex”


Studying inequity and violence promotes social justice

SDG 16 calls for social justice, safety and equality. This goal aims to end all forms of injustice, violence and abuse, and ensure that all humans have equal rights. As mentioned, the targets of this goal are all-encompassing and include stopping the exploitation of children, reducing illicit financial and arms flow, and reducing corruption and bribery in all their forms. However,  despite how broad these targets are, two clear research areas stood out in the corpus of studies mapped to SDG 16: racial injustice (especially racial biases within the United States justice system) and violence against women.

Racism in the United States and around the world is a long-standing issue that permeates almost every facet of daily life. The studies highlighted in this article demonstrate the specific toll racial injustice has on mental and physical health, which in turn can result in low life expectancy. Unfortunately, these outcomes appear to only have been exacerbated as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

Another global crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic is violence against women, which was the most prevalent topic covered by the overall corpus of literature mapped to SDG16. According to the UN Women’s survey data from 13 countries, almost half of all women reported that they or a woman they know experienced a form of violence since the COVID-19 pandemic.

We extracted the titles from the top 1,000 cited articles on SDG 16 and used a ‘word cloud’ to illustrate the most studied and published papers. Within SDG 16, the most recurring topics are those relating to violence against women. As can be seen from the word cloud illustration, sexual, domestic and intimate partner abuse and violence are the most published topics within this area.


Created May 30th, 2022, by article authors, using: https://www.wordclouds.com/


Violence against women is also a key focus of SDG 5: Gender equality, which aims to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. We will be exploring this SDG in an upcoming article in this series, so let us know via Twitter (@ClarivateAG) if there are areas within this body of research you’re interested in knowing more about.

Several interlinking subject areas can be found throughout the SDGs, but the intersection between SDG 16 (peace) and SDG 5 (gender equality) highlights a point we made at the start of this post: achieving the targets of all SDGs is entwined with the success of SDG 16. Conflict and injustice aggravate all other crises, particularly those related to human rights and equality.

It is pertinent that research in this area continues to grow and be used to define policies, programs and long-term strategies that tackle the underlying causes of social injustice—and can withstand unexpected and complex global challenges.


Stay up to date

We discussed the SDG Publishers Compact in the first post in our series and then celebrated the Highly Cited Researchers contributing to SDG 1: No Poverty and SDG 2: Zero Hunger. We then shone a spotlight on top researchers contributing to Good Health and Well-Being (SDG 3) and Quality Education (SDG 4).

In our next posts, we will identify Highly Cited Researchers who are working to address SDG 5: Gender Equality and SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Keep an eye on our social media channels for updates.

At Clarivate, sustainability is at the heart of everything we do, and this includes support of human rights, diversity and inclusion, and social justice. Read more about our commitment to driving sustainability worldwide, and see highlights from our 2021 Clarivate Sustainability Report.