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Women and Men’s Fear of Gang Crime: The Effects of Community Diversity, Disorder, and Decline

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Women and Men’s Fear of Gang Crime: The Effects of Community Diversity, Disorder, and Decline
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Cardenas, Jeanette
Lane, Jodi ( Mentor )
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Gainesville, Fla.
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University of Florida
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Women and Men's Fear of Gang Crime:
The Effects of Community Diversity, Disorder, and Decline

Jeanette Cardenas


ABSTRACT


Prior fear of crime research shows that women are consistently more afraid of crime than men are, even though

they are less likely to be victims. Researchers have developed theoretical perspectives to explain fear among

people who face less risk. This study examines the differential impacts of demographic factors and perceptions

of community diversity, disorder, and decline on fear of gang crime among women and men. We use a 1997 data

set in which 1000 Orange County, California residents answered questions about themselves, their perceptions

of their community, and their perceived risk and fear of gang crimes. Ordinary least square regression

analyses indicate that in the women's sample no theoretical perspective was a significant predictor in the final

model, and in the men's sample only community decline was a significant predictor.



INTRODUCTION


Gang violence during the 1990's was at the forefront of public policy. This was in part fueled by the "persistence

of both gang activity nationwide and the violence associated with it" (O.J.J.D.P., p.2). The presence of about

24,500 youth gangs prompted Congress to pass bills such as the 1994 Federal Crime Bill, making some gang

related crimes a federal offense (Lane & Meeker, 2000; O.J.J.D.P., 2002). Gang crime and the national attention

it has garnered throughout the 1990's probably resulted in an increased incidence of public fear.

Prior fear of crime research shows that women are more afraid of crime than men, even though they are less likely

to become victims. Researchers have turned to causes of fear other that crime risk to explain the

aforementioned recurrent findings (Ferraro, 1996; LaGrange & Ferraro, 1989; Lane & Meeker, 2000;

McGarrell, Giacomazzi, & Thurman, 1997; Ortega & Myles, 1987; Perkins & Taylor, 1996). Studies indicate

that perceptions of community factors such as diversity, disorder, and decline may explain fear among people

who are not likely to be victimized.

Although gangs were a focus of crime policy during the 1990's there have been few studies on fear of

gangs. Although many studies have concluded that women are more afraid of crime than men despite their

lower victimization risk, only a few studies have examined the causes of fear of crime separately for women and




men. This study fills the gap in the literature by (1) investigating women and men's fear of gang crime

separately and (2) determining if the theoretical perspectives, community diversity, disorder, and decline,

affect women and men differently.


Three theoretical perspectives have been developed to explain the differences between actual victimization risk

and fear of crime. The community diversity perspective asserts that in communities lacking a strong

community network, people will be more afraid of unfamiliar persons who are racially, ethnically, and /or

culturally different. This fear is prompted by residents' inability to interpret the mannerisms and behaviors of

people who are different (Lane & Meeker, 2000). The disorder perspective states that both physical and

social disorder, such as abandoned buildings, trash, and graffiti, "represent not only a superficial negligence of

the community but also an underlying breakdown of both local norms of behavior and formal and informal

social controls." (Perkins & Taylor, 1996: pg. 66-67). This sensed breakdown makes residents feel more at risk

and more afraid (LaGrange, Ferraro, & Supancic, 1992; Lane & Meeker, 2000; Lane, 2002; Perkins & Taylor,

1996). The community decline perspective ascribes fear of crime to concern over community change; signs

of disorder or other factors cause people to believe that the community is not the way it used to be (Lane &

Meeker, 2000; Lane, 2002; McGarrell et al., 1997; Taylor & Covington, 1993).


Numerous studies have used risk measures and generalized results to represent fear. These measures when

used interchangeably yield inconsistent results. In response to these inconsistencies recent studies

have differentiated between perceived risk and fear of crime (LaGrange et al., 1992; Ferraro & LaGrange, 1987).

This study used measures of both perceived risk and fear of gang crime.


Prior studies have indicated that demographic factors are essential in comprehending fear of crime, and thus must

be included in analyses. Some factors that prior studies have found to be relevant when studying fear include:

sex, age, race, homeownership, and prior victimization. Studies have found age to be an important factor, with

some studies finding that younger people (LaGrange & Ferraro, 1989; Lane & Meeker, 2000) are more afraid

and some studies finding that older people are more afraid (McGarrell et al., 1997). Most studies indicate

that minorities are more afraid of crime (Alba, Logan, & Bellair, 1994; Parker, 2001). Most studies also indicate

that renters and people who live in higher crime and more socially disorganized areas are more afraid (Alba et

al., 1994; LaGrange et al., 1992). Findings regarding prior victimization have had mixed results and only

sometimes show prior victimization as a predictor of fear (Ferraro, 1996; LaGrange et al., 1992).


Based on the literature we expected that women would be more afraid than men, each of the theoretical

perspectives would be significant predictors, similarity to others would decrease fear, and perceived risk

would predict fear. We expected that younger people, minorities, renters, and people in the Central district would

be more afraid of gang crime. We also expected that victimization would not have a significant effect on fear.



METHODS


Participants


This paper uses data from a study done by Dr. Jodi Lane and Dr. James Meeker from the University of California





at Irvine. A random digit dial (RDD) survey of 1000 Orange County residents was conducted in 1997. The

sample contained 500 women and 500 men. The current analysis uses a subsample of the RDD group, including

only respondents with complete data on all variables used here (n=695). The subsample contained females

(48.6%), males (51.4%), and was mostly white (66%).


Measures



The dependent variable, fear of gang crime, is a composite index of respondents' mean fear scores on

six specific gang crimes (see Table 1). Fear scores for each crime were added together and divided

by six. The independent variables used include: demographic characteristics, similarity to

others, composite index measures for each of the theoretical perspectives (community

diversity, disorder, and decline), and perceived risk of victimization for each gang crime.


The demographic characteristics are sex (female = 1, male = 0), age (18-20 = 1, 75 and up = 8),

race (white = 1, others = 0), homeownership (homeowner = 1, renter = 0), personal victimization (yes

= 1, no = 0) and district of residence (lives in central district = 1, lives elsewhere in county = 0).

The central district, which has the most crime and disorder, serves as a proxy for objective risk

of victimization.


Similarity to others includes responses to the following question "How would you describe the

people who live in your community in terms of such things as income, education, and lifestyle?"

Answer options ranged from "not at all like you = 1" to "very much like you = 3".


The three theoretical perspectives were operationalized by creating composite index measures for

each individual theoretical perspective (see Table 1). Exploratory factor analyses, using varimax

rotation, were used to create the diversity and disorder indexes. The decline index was created based

on three questions measuring perceptions of community change. To create the indexes,

respondents' scores on the included variables were added together and divided by the respective

number of questions.


Perceived risk of victimization is a composite index of respondents' mean perceived risk scores for

six specific gang crimes (see Table 1). Scores for each crime were added together and divided by six.



Table 1
Composite Indexes

FEAR OF CRIME AND PERCEIVED RISK
Fear: I would like you to tell me how personally afraid you are of the following crimes. Are you not afraid, somewhat afraid, afraid, or very afraid? (not afraid=1,
very afraid=4)


Risk: I would like you to tell me how likely you think it is that you will become a victim of the following crimes in

the next two or three years. It is not likely, somewhat likely, likely, or very likely? (not likely = 1, very likely = 4)


. * Graffiti






* Home invasion robbery

* Drive by random gang related shooting

* Physical assault by a gang member

* Harassment by gang members

* Carjacking


PERCEPTIONS OF DIVERSITY AND DISORDER

We have a number of questions about your community as you define it. I will read you a list of some things

that currently might be problems in your community. After I read each one, please tell me whether you think it is

a big problem, a small problem, or no problem in your community (no problem = 1, big problem = 4).



DIVERSITY INDEX

* Language differences between residents

* Cultural differences between residents

* Racial differences between residents

* People moving in and out without personally becoming attached to the community



DISORDER INDEX

* Poverty and economic hardship

* People or landlords allowing their property to become run down

* Abandoned houses or empty buildings

* Gunfire

* Graffiti

* Gangs

* Youth hanging out

* Too many people living in one residence


PERCEPTION OF COMMUNITY CHANGE
DECLINE INDEX
(1 = better/ more safe / decreased, 3= worse / less safe / increased)
* Community had become a better place to live, had gotten worse, or stayed about the same
* Whether they felt more or less safe or about the same in the community
* Whether they believed gang violence had increased, remained the same, or decreased.






Procedures


Theory driven stepwise ordinary least squares (OLS) regression equations were performed to examine the effects

of community diversity, disorder, and decline on women and men's fear of gang crime after controlling

for demographic factors and one's perceived similarity to others. In all models the first step included

demographic variables, the second step included perceived similarity to others, the third step included




composite index measures for each of the three theoretical perspectives, and the fourth step included perceived

risk of victimization for each gang crime.



RESULTS


Table 2 presents the OLS regression equations, for the total RDD sample, women, and men. For the total

model, step 1, the demographic variables explained most of the variance in fear (12%). Only sex, race, and

age remained significant in the final model. Females, minorities, and younger people were more afraid of gang

crime. Similarity to others did not cause a significant change in the R2, but remained significant in the final

model. The three theoretical perspectives explained 4.6% of the variance in fear, but only one

theoretical perspective, community decline, remained a significant predictor in the final model. Perceived

risk explained 9.4% of variance in fear and was significant in the final model.


For the women's model, demographic variables explained 6.4% of the variance in fear. Only owner and age

remained significant in the final model. Homeowners and younger people were more afraid of gang crime.

Similarity to others did not cause a significant change in the R2, and did not remain in the final model. The

three theoretical perspectives explained 4.2% of the variance in fear, and none of the theoretical

perspectives remained significant in the final model. Perceived risk explained most of the variance in fear (8%)

and remained significant in the final model.


For the men's model, demographic variables explained 7.9% of the variance in fear. White was the only variable

that remained significant in the final model. Minorities reported the greatest fear of crime. Similarity to others did

not cause a significant change in the R2, but remained significant in the final model. The three

theoretical perspectives explained 7.7% of the variance in fear, but only one theoretical perspective,

community decline, remained a significant predictor in the final model.



Perceived risk explained most of the variance in fear (12.8%) and was significant in the final model. When

comparing the three models we see that age was a significant predictor for both the total and women's sample

but not for the men's sample. Race and similarity to others were significant predictors for the total and men's

sample but not for the women's sample. Being a homeowner was a significant predictor for women but not

significant for either the total or men's sample. The community decline perspective was the only

theoretical perspective that was a significant predictor in the final models, but was significant for only the total

and men's samples. Perceived risk was a significant predictor in all three models.



Table 2
Stepwise Linear Regression for Women and Men's Fear of Gang Crimes

Total Women Men

STEP 1 b (SE) Beta b (SE) Beta b (SE) Beta

0.497** 0.247
Sex
(0.067)






-0.056* -0.085 -0.122** -0.178 -0.005 -0.009
Age (0.024) (0.039) (0.029)

-0.235* -0.111 -0.065 -0.028 -0.353** -0.197
White
(0.077) (0.129) (0.089)

0.127 0.062 0.290* 0.130 -0.002 -0.001
Owner
(0.073) (0.121) (0.084)

-0.011 -0.005 0.027 0.010 -0.041 -0.020
Victim
(0.083) (0.137) (0.098)

-0.009 -0.003 -0.003 -0.001 0.023 0.010
Central District
(0.088) (0.143) (0.106)

STEP 2

0.136* 0.080 0.077 0.042 0.154* 0.107
Similarity to others
(0.059) (0.098) (0.069)

STEP 3

0.005 0.004 -0.146 -0.110 0.130 0.115
Diversity (0.057) (0.096) (0.067)

0.028 0.023 0.096 0.073 -0.010 -0.009
Disorder
(0.059) (0.102) (0.067)

0.224* 0.103 0.205 0.089 0.252* 0.132
Decline
(0.077) (0.125) (0.091)

STEP 4

0.534*** .349 0.534*** .333 0.533*** .399
Gang Risk
(0.057) (0.094) (0.068)


R2 Change, Step 1 0.120** 0.064*** 0.079*

R2 Change, Step 2 0.001 0.000 0.001

R2 Change, Step 3 0.046*** 0.042* 0.077*

R2 Change, Step 4 0.094*** 0.080*** 0.128*

Model R2 0.261 0.186 0.286

Model R2 Adj 0.249 0.191 0.265

Model F 21.899** 7.475*** 13.843*

Model Df 11,683 10,327 10,346

*p<0.05 **p<0.01 ***p<0.001


DISCUSSION


The study's primary research question asked if the theoretical factors predicting fear were different for women

and men. Contrary to expectations and most prior studies two of the three perspectives (diversity and disorder)

were not significant in any model (LaGrange et al., 1992; Lane, 2002; McGarrell et al., 1997). Decline was

significant for the total model and for men. Perceived risk was also an important predictor. Similar to

previous findings we found in the total model that women, minorities, and younger people were more

afraid. However, we found that women who were homeowners and younger were more afraid while men who

were minorities were more afraid.






Unlike most studies we put all three theoretical perspectives in the same statistical models. They may share

variance and therefore may not be significant predictors here when they would have been by themselves.

Some studies have connected theoretical models before (Lane & Meeker, 2000; Taylor & Covington, 1993).



Negative community change affects fear of gang crime for at least men even after controlling for diversity

and disorder. Consequently focusing on code enforcement and community improvement efforts may

prevent unreasonable fears about gang crime.






REFERENCES


Alba, R.D., Logan, J.R., & Bellair, P.E. (1994). Living with crime. Social Forces, 73(2), 395-434.


Ferraro, K.F. (1996). Women's fear of victimization? Social Forces, 75(2), 667-691.


Ferraro, K.F. & LaGrange R. (1987). The measurement of fear of crime. Sociological Inquiry, 57(1), 70-101.


LaGrange, R.L., Ferraro, K.F., & Supancic, M. (1992). Perceived risk and fear of crime. Journal of Research in

Crime and Delinquency, 29, 311-334.


LaGrange, R.L. & Ferraro, K.F. (1989). Assessing age and gender differences in perceived risk and fear of

crime. Criminology, 27(4), 697-719.


LaGrange, R.L. & Ferraro, K.F. (1987). The elderly's fear of crime. Research on Aging, 9(3), 372-391.


Lane, J. (2002). Fear of gang crime: a qualitative examination of the four perspectives. Journal of Research in

Crime and Delinquency, 39(4), 437-471.


Lane, J. & Meeker, J.W. (Eds.). (2000). American Society of Criminology Meetings. San Francisco, CA.


McGarrell, E.F., Giacomazzi, A.L., & Thurman, Q.C. (1997). Neighborhood disorder, integration, and the fear of

crime. Justice Quarterly, 14, 479-500.


Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (2002). National youth gang survey trends from 1996 to

2000 (Feb. 2002 #3). Washington, D.C.: Egley, A. Jr.


Ortega, S.T. & Myles, J.L. (1987). Race and gender effects on fear of crime. Criminology, 25, 133-152.


Parker, K.D. (2001). Black-white differences in perceptions of fear of crime. The Journal of Social Psychology, 128

(4), 487-494.


Perkins, D.D. & Taylor, R.B. (1996). Ecological assessments of community disorder.

American Journal of Community Psychology, 24(1), 63-107.


Taylor, R.B. & Covington, J. (1993). Community structural change and fear of crime. Social Problems, 40, 525-542.









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