Attitudes toward Crime

Because the United States is the most violent industrialized democracy in the world.as well as one of the wealthiest, it is not surprising that concern and fear about crime are widespread in this country. In a recent national survey, for example, 31% of the respondents indicated that they were afraid to walk alone at night within a mile of their homes (Davis & Smith, 1994). However, fear is not necessarily the same as reality. For example, older adults, and women in particular, are reportedly more afraid than younger adults,1 but younger adults are more likely than older adults to be victims of crime. In 1993, for example, 125.2 of every 1000 residents of the U.S. between the ages of 12 and 16,120.5 of every 1000 residents between 16 and 19, and 97.7 of every 1000 residents between 20 and 24 were victims of personal crimes. However, only 7.8 of every 1000 residents aged 65 and over were victims of personal crimes in that year (Perkins, Klaus, Bastian, & Cohen, 1996). The crime victimization rate is lower for older persons than for any other age group (Ferraro & LaGrange, 1992; Perkins et al., 1996).2 When crimes against the elderly occur, and especially violent crimes, they are much more likely than crimes against younger adults to take place in or near their homes (Church, Siegel, & Foster, 1988). When they are victimized, older adults are less likely to resist, and therefore less likely to be physically injured. Be that as it may, because of their lower financial status, the relative loss suffered by older crime victims is usually greater than that for younger victims. Older adults rarely have insurance or coverage through their place of employment, so the financial impact of crime can be quite severe. In addition, crime victimization can be emotionally devastating for older adults (Cook, Skogan, Cook, & An-tunes, 1978; U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, 1994).

The incidence of a particular type of crime is also not always consistent with the public attention given to it. For example, there are more printed articles and television programs concerned with murder than aggravated assault, but the latter is more common than the former. More attention is also paid to burglary and larceny-theft than to motor-vehicle theft, but the latter crime is more common than the first two by a large margin (Wright, 1997).

1Employing a different methodology than previous investigations of fears of crime among the elderly, Ferraro and LaGrange (1992) found that younger adults (18-24 years old) were more fearful than older adults of most crimes. Among adults aged 75 years of age and older, the fear of property crime was lower than that for any other age group.

2Crime victimization rates are higher for males than for females, higher for blacks than for whites, and higher for Hispanics than for non-Hispanics (Perkins et al., 1996).

The extensive publicity given to crime by the media has undoubtedly contributed to the American public's fears and concerns about crime. Americans consider crime to be the nation's most serious problem. Thus, Gallup polls conducted in 1993 and 1994 found that 87% of both the white and black respondents believed that crime is on the rise, and 25% were deeply afraid of it (Gallup, 1996; McAneny, 1993). Furthermore, 80% of the persons in a representative sample polled by Moore (1994) indicated that they favored the death penalty for adults and 60% for juveniles who committed murder. Despite their fears concerning crime, the majority of residents of the United States who were questioned in McAneny's (1993) poll indicated that they took no special precautions to cope with it. Still, slightly over 40% of all people in this country report owning guns, a rate that is highest in the 18-20 age group (U.S. Department of Justice, 1994).

With respect to solutions to the problem of crime in the United States, older adults are more likely than younger adults to favor stricter gun-control laws, more police on the streets, restrictions on violence shown on television, and longer jail terms for criminals. However, older adults are less likely than younger adults to believe that job programs for inner cities would reduce the crime rate (Moore & Newport, 1994).

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