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Women and Men's Fear of Gang Crime:
The Effects of Community Diversity, Disorder, and Decline
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.
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.
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%).
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
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.
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,
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
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).
* Language differences between residents
* Cultural differences between residents
* Racial differences between residents
* People moving in and out without personally becoming attached to the community
* Poverty and economic hardship
* People or landlords allowing their property to become run down
* Abandoned houses or empty buildings
* Youth hanging out
* Too many people living in one residence
PERCEPTION OF COMMUNITY CHANGE
(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.
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.
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.
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
-0.056* -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
(0.077) (0.129) (0.089)
0.127 0.062 0.290* 0.130 -0.002 -0.001
(0.073) (0.121) (0.084)
-0.011 -0.005 0.027 0.010 -0.041 -0.020
(0.083) (0.137) (0.098)
-0.009 -0.003 -0.003 -0.001 0.023 0.010
(0.088) (0.143) (0.106)
0.136* 0.080 0.077 0.042 0.154* 0.107
Similarity to others
(0.059) (0.098) (0.069)
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
(0.059) (0.102) (0.067)
0.224* 0.103 0.205 0.089 0.252* 0.132
(0.077) (0.125) (0.091)
0.534*** .349 0.534*** .333 0.533*** .399
(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
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.
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.
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Crime and Delinquency, 39(4), 437-471.
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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
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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