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Fear of Crime Victimization in Copenhagen and Houston Daniella Mostow 15 May 2014

Created for Copenhagen Area Survey / København Omrüde Oversigt (KOO) Rice University: Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the Danish Institute for Study Abroad

Table of Contents Executive Summary…………………………………………………………………………………….…..2 The Issues……………………………………………………………………………………………...……3 The Research………………………………………………………………………………………………..3 The Findings………………………………………………………………………………………………..5 Significant Variables……………………………………………………………………………….7 The Conclusions…………………………………………………………………………………………...11


Executive Summary This paper compares the fear of crime victimization in Copenhagen and Houston. In Copenhagen, only 20% of respondents reported being somewhat or very fearful of crime; in Houston, three times as many (59%) of Houstonians reported fearing crime. With different forms of government, education styles, and ethnic makeup, these two cities serve as a great way to compare variables that affect people’s perceived safety. It is not always the case that a more dangerous city has citizens who are more afraid of crime. This paper will look at demographics, people’s opinion about governmental actions, and personal beliefs to uncover similarities and differences in relation to this fear. This paper finds that Houstonian’s demographics can better predict their fear of victimization than Danes. Copenhagen respondents are much more affected by their personal states. Those who are happy, trust more, and/ or are less stressed are often feel much safer.



The Issue

A key purpose of government is to protect its citizens. The government acts as the main body fighting against threatening states and regions, and it also protects individual citizens from internal harm. Current societies have laws and methods of protection and punishment to give their citizens the freedom to live their life with a smaller chance of being a victim of a crime. The government’s actions should leave people with less fear of being a crime victim. These different ways of running a country create different types of citizens, who are shaped by the rules and societies in which they live. By looking at two cities, governed by different laws and styles of living, it is interesting to examine similarities and differences that societies face. In this paper, I study the similarities and differences in fear of crime victimization in Copenhagen, Denmark and Houston, Texas, United States. Before doing so, I look at the concept of the “fear of crime victimization” and also the research studying who fears crime victimization. The fear of crime victimization is not a concept that stands alone; it is ingrained in certain societies and understood as a social norm. Many studies in the past decade have explored why people fear being a victim of crime. Research has focused around the psychological explanations and the demographic results of this fear. This research is instructive, but we also need comparative research if we are to fully understand the issue. II.

The Research

Many studies in the past ten years have explored why people fear being victims of crime. On the surface, it seems obvious: people fear crime victimization when there is much crime around them or they have actually been a crime victim. But it is not nearly that simple. The relationship between fear of crime victimization and actual crime levels is weak at best. Many other factors, then, matter for why people fear becoming a victim of crime. To reiterate, fear of crime victimization does not necessarily directly relate to the actual risk of a crime happening to that person (Chadee). For example, women and elderly people often have higher levels of fear of crime even though they have lower victimization rates (Doran, Burgess, 2). Fear of crime victimization is generated, it seems, by insecurity and vulnerability in an area. These fears do not just appear, but are ingrained in aspects of some societies. Economic and social fears and concern of incivility lead people to fear crime, (Hirtenlehner and Farrall, 15-16). The vulnerability also comes from perceptions of disorder in neighborhoods, collective efficacy, and “moral decline (Gray, 90). Doran and Burgess relate the fear of crime to theories about when crime occurs. People who believe that there is a high chance of crime in the area are more afraid of crime (25). Along with this, people who are less able to protect themselves feel more afraid, (30). This vulnerability is something that has been tested and found to exist in relation to people’s fear of victimization. While understanding fear of victimization, it is also important to understand where it leads. People who have this fear often take more precautions to protect themselves against crime. In a study from London, one fourth of the people who admitted to being afraid of crime took “problem-solving activities” and then reported not being afraid of crime (Gray, 79). This


phenomenon is something that Doron and Burgess call the “Paradox of Fear of Crime,” because it may actually make people safer to be afraid of crime (6). Demographics We must also examine the demographics of fear of victimization. Socio-economic class, race, gender, and neighborhoods can affect people’s fear of crime. Gender Women on average report higher ratings of fear of crime victimization than men. Many studies examine this phenomenon and also explain the different fears related to crime that women and men have. The gap in difference of fear diminishes as age increases (Diedrik, 71). A New York City project found that fear of rape was not a driving force between the gap in gender fear; instead, the way that women have been socialized and taught to be afraid made women more afraid (Snedker). In addition, no matter the gender identity of a person, people who have more “feminine” patterns were more afraid of crime (Diedrik 71). Another study found that for men, other demographics played a larger role in predicting fear of crime than it did for women (Schafer, 295-296). In contrast to the just mentioned study, Schafer did say that fear of sexual violence played a part in women’s fear of crime. Fear has also been studied between genders to understand their differences. While studying fear in transit systems, men feel calmer when there are more cameras and when trains arrive on time. However, women are more affected by personal acts of violence against them, while men are able to recover faster (Yavuz, 2499). Neighborhoods/ Socio-economic Class Urban planning has moved economic classes to separate horizontally instead of vertically. In the early twentieth century, richer people lived on the first floor of buildings, and poorer people lived above them. Since then, people have moved to live in areas of people with similar socio-economic standing. This division into neighborhoods has increased the importance of studying neighborhoods in relation to fear of crime. A study in Sweden found that specific neighborhoods have significant levels of differences in fear (Mellgren). The amount of neighborhood disorder plays a significant effect on this fear. This study also says that U.S. studies show stronger neighborhood effects than Sweden, (Mellgren, 304). Schieman and Pearlin’s research suggests that more disadvantaged neighborhoods contain a greater fear of victimization. Along with this, people who are in homogenous neighborhoods feel safer. A study from Dallas suggests that people can use social capital to their advantage to reduce the fear of crime victimization (Ferguson and Mindel). Race Race has not been studied much in relation to fear of crime. A study in 2010 found that Blacks and Hispanics in the United States were less likely to feel safe than Whites, regardless of the community in which they were living. However, higher educated people felt safer. This study also said that people who went to church felt safer (Kareem, 290-291). Another study found that minority status of any kind, including race, increases fear of crime (Ortega and Myles 1987). 4|Page

Still, Houts and Kassab argue that much more research must be done to understand non-white fear of crime. Age A common belief is that people’s fear of crime victimization grows with age, even though the risk of crime occurring is reduced. However, researcher Rachel Pain argues that the older population’s vulnerability and perception of what a crime means to them is more severe, which she thinks justifies their fear: since they are unable to protect themselves, they have a larger fear (126). A study from 2013 found that as people get older, their dispositional fear remains the same, but their situational fear increases, which would explain a fear of crime victimization (Kappes). Location and Fear of Crime Little has been done to study location in relation to fear of crime. Hummelshiem and other researchers did an extensive review of many different European countries in 2010 that found that of the European states, countries that had more welfare had less fear of crime than the other countries. However, that is one of the only studies on the topic. This Study Given the lack of research on the differences of population’s fear of crime, I examine the differences between the fear of crime in Copenhagen and Houston Texas. The year 2014 was the first year that Copenhagen had a Copenhagen Area Study, and it was created to mirror the Houston Area Study. These surveys interview over 1000 participants, randomly sampling residents of the respective metropolitan areas. The similarity in the questions asked allows for comparison of the two cities. I focus on factors that other researchers found that triggered a difference in fear of crime victimization.

III. The Findings Fear of Crime in Each City To understand how many people were afraid of crime, I looked at two questions from both surveys. Both surveys asked the question `How worried are you personally that you or a member of your family will become the victim of a crime?’ This question directly relates to people’s perception of their personal safety. As can be seen in Figure 1, Houston area residents are more likely to fear crime victimization than are Copenhagen area residents. In Copenhagen, 80.3% of the respondents reported either ‘not worried at all’ or ‘not very worried. In Contrast, only 41.3% of Houston respondents reported that they were ‘not worried at all’ or ‘not very worried.’ Houstonians are more than four times as likely to be very worried about crime victimization (5% of Copenhageners, 23% of Houstonians), and three times as likely to be somewhat or very fearful (20% of Copenhageners, 59% of Houstonians). Clearly, these are substantial differences in fear of crime.


Copenhagen How worried are you personally that you or a member of your family will become the victim of a crime?

Houston How worried are you personally that you or a member of your family will become the victim of a crime?

4.9 14.9

23.0 40.1


Not worried at all

Not worried at all Not very worried

Not very worried Somewhat worried


Very worried



Somewhat worried

Very worried

From looking at this information, Copenhageners report a significantly lower fear of crime and, when I examine actual crime statistics, they also have on average a lower chance of experiencing crime. This topic becomes even more interesting while looking at each city individually to understand what predicts the fear of crime. There are certain variables, like trust in the government, that appear to have similar results on people’s response of fear of crime. However, other variables are predictors in one city, and not the other.

Variables related to Fear of Crime Perhaps the most interesting difference while looking at the fear of crime in each city is the difference in association between the fear of crime and the perception of crime in the area. In Copenhagen, there is an association between these two factors, yet in Houston, there is not. Other studies have found that other cities also do not have any association between the two. However, it is significant that there is such a strong association between the two in Copenhagen. To create a deeper understanding of which factors may affect this result, I have created a chart below from my correlation analysis. In the chart, I list the variables that significantly predict fear of crime in at least one city, and the respective correlation value. Correlations range from 0 (no correlation) to plus or minus 1 (perfect correlation). Thus, the higher the absolute value, the stronger the correlation between the factor and fear of crime. If the number is positive, then the level of fear increases as the value increase. For some variables, there is a significant association in one city but not the other. When this is the case, I write (N.S.) for the other city. There are also certain variables that are associated in one city, but there is no adequate question in the other survey, so I put a (--).


Significant Variables

Variable Demographics Age Ability to buy food Citizenship Female Anglo Hispanic Belief in Government Gov. focused on citizens Immigration acceptance Immigration and society Fair working conditions Legalize Marijuana


Copenhagen (beta)

Houston (beta)

.125 -.113 N.S. N.S. -N.S.

N.S. N.S. -.222 .147 -.156 .206











Variable Personal Beliefs/ Behaviors Crime in neighborhood Trust Happiness Stress Quality of life Close Black Friends Taking public transport

Copenhagen (beta)

Houston (beta)



.249 .145 -.215 .198 N.S. N.S.

.188 .078 -.040 -.110 .166

There are no identified demographics that showed a significant association in both Copenhagen and Houston. But certain demographic factors did matter in one metro or the other. The demographic factors that had any association in Copenhagen were age and a person’s ability to buy food. As Danes got older, their fear of victimization increased. Analyzing the relationship in more careful detail, I found that it is not a straight line relationship. Fear of crime grew gradually, but was slightly more elevated in participants 40-65 years old. After that, people tended to decrease in their fear. Danes who had trouble buying food in the past ten years had a larger fear of victimization than those who did not have problems. Houston had a stronger association of demographics with fear of victimization. These variables include: citizenship, gender, and ethnicity. Out of American citizens, 44.5% are either not very afraid or not at all afraid of crime victimization, compared to just 25% of non-citizens. Non-citizens clearly feel more vulnerable. Additionally, 44.2% of men from Houston reported a smaller fear of crime, compared to 38.4% of women. Interestingly, both genders have around the


same amount of people who are either ‘somewhat worried’ or ‘not very worried,’ but the genders differed in the extremes of the question. While looking at ethnicity in relation to fear of victimization, Anglo and Hispanic responses were the only two ethnicities (out of the options Anglo/ non- Hispanic white, Black / African American, Hispanic/ Latin@, Asian, Other) that showed any associations. AngloAmericans had increasing rates of fear until being ‘somewhat afraid,’ but then a smaller percentage of the Anglo-American was ‘very worried’ compared to the other options and compared to the rest of the Houston respondents. Hispanic respondents increased in percentages of their population who responded to be more afraid of crime. They had a much higher percentage of people who were very worried about crime, 37% compared to 16.1% of the general public. 40.0% 35.0% 30.0% 25.0% 20.0% 15.0% 10.0% 5.0% 0.0%

Anglo Hispanic All Respondents

Beliefs in relation to Government A large difference between Copenhagen and Houston is the way that the country is run. Denmark identifies as a welfare state, supporting citizens through providing free healthcare and education, including university. Denmark is also highly homogenous, given that only 11% of the population is an immigrant or a recent descendant, (Official Website of Denmark). Houston is part of a Democratic Republic and has many tiers of government: national, state, and city governances. There are almost as many survey respondents who are Hispanic as there are White Anglo-Americans. With these two differences, it made these two cities differ in values associated with fear of crime victimization. Government Responsibility and Personal Concern In Copenhagen, the fear of crime victimization is negatively associated with, ‘Would you say that your local government is more concerned with the needs of its citizens or with the needs of business and commerce,’ Danes who said that the government is more concerned with citizens were 15% more likely to be not very worried or not at all worried about victimization. This association could mean that people who feel like the government is already doing something to protect every citizen will perceive a smaller fear of victimization.


50.0% 45.0% 40.0% 35.0% 30.0% 25.0% 20.0% 15.0% 10.0% 5.0% 0.0%

Needs of citizens Needs of business and commerce

Immigration In both cities, there is a strong association between accepting immigrants and a fear of victimization. None of the respondents in Copenhagen who said there was a good relationship between Danes and non-western immigrants reported a fear of victimization. To understand the relation between the acceptance of immigrants and fear of crime, different questions were significant in the two cities. For Copenhagen, the two significant questions about immigration were about the relation between Danes and nonwestern immigrants and if people believed that there should be more immigration in the next ten years. In Houston, there was a significant association between questions about people’s general feelings towards undocumented immigrants and if people felt like immigrants were taking more from the economy than they contributed. In Copenhagen, there is a stronger association between immigration and this fear of victimization. The graphs below clearly show the reduction in fear as people are more accepting of immigrants

Cross-tabulation: Relation between Danes and nonwestern immigrants 80.0% 60.0% 40.0% 20.0% 0.0%

Excellent Good Fair Poor

Cross-tabulation: Opinion about increased immigration in the next ten years 80.0% 60.0% 40.0% 20.0% 0.0%

More About the same Fewer


However, while looking at Houston’s associated variables, it is clear that there is some association between the two variables, yet it is not as connected as it is in Copenhagen. Cross-tabulation: Do immigrants to the U.S. Generally take more from the economy than they contribute? 50.0% 40.0% 30.0% 20.0% 10.0% 0.0%

Take more

Cross-tabulation: How do you feel about undocumented immigrants? 50.0% 40.0% 30.0% 20.0% 10.0% 0.0%

very unfavorable 3 5 7

Contribute more

9 very favorable

Personal Beliefs When looking at personal beliefs in association with fear of crime victimization, in both places, people who have more trust, have a strong quality of life, and less stressed generally have a smaller fear of victimization. Copenhagen reported higher beta associations in all categories related to personal beliefs. As seen in the chart below, the fear of crime victimization decreases while the reported happiness increases. This chart is about happiness, yet the same can be said for every question asked in relation to personal feelings of stress and trust. In Houston, happiness is negatively associated with fear of crime, meaning that the happier people are, the less they fear crime (and conversely, the less they fear crime, the happier they are). For Copenhagen, I found the same but even stronger relationship between happiness and fear of crime. Copenhagen 60.0% 50.0% 40.0% 30.0% 20.0% 10.0% 0.0%


Very happy Fairly happy Very unhappy

50.0% 40.0% 30.0% 20.0% 10.0% 0.0%

Very happy Fairly happy Very unhappy

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IV. Conclusions Overall, Copenhagen has a substantially smaller fear of crime victimization than Houston. While comparing these numbers with the variables that showed an association with fear of crime victimization, it was interesting to see that Houston had higher association between fear of victimization with demographics while Danish responses were more related to personal beliefs. Although many factors were significantly associated with fear of crime in both populations, yet Copenhagen has a much smaller fear of crime victimization. Copenhagen facilitates a higher rate of trust and happiness in the population, which both are highly associated with reduced fear of crime. In many of the variables that seemed to decrease this fear in the population, Copenhagen has strong infrastructure supporting those aspects of society. Copenhagen has dedicated resources to create a society with a smaller economic and social gap between its citizens. By making higher education free and giving a stipend to all of the college students, more of the population has at least a bachelor’s degree. These social services are also provided in less obvious ways. Copenhagen has been focusing on becoming a lead ‘blue and green’ city by creating many spaces for people to spend time, play, and interact with each other and nature all around the city, (Lauritsen, 2013). These parks and water environments create a space where people can have fun, enhancing happiness, but it is also a place where people are interacting with strangers, which creates a deeper trust in society. Although there are many things that Copenhagen is doing to decrease the fear of victimization in a positive and more inclusive way, it also has stringent immigration laws, which keeps the population homogeneous. Denmark does not allow a person to gain citizenship from marriage until after the person is 24 (Line and Poon, 2013). It also has fairly strict policies for people seeking asylum in Denmark (Yagoup, 2013). These methods of keeping other people out of the country increase unity and homogeneity, which likely strengthens trust. Houston is substantially more ethnically diverse and its larger population seemingly are partly explanations for a population with a larger fear of crime victimization. In variables like trust, Houston respondents had a positive association between trust and a decreased fear, yet the majority of Houstonians did not have much trust in others, according to our survey measures. Fear of crime is an important issue to understand. It deserves more comparative study, and this work was but one small step. Much more is needed to be understood. We have learned from this work, however, that the fear of crime can vary dramatically across place, and that the factors associated with that fear also vary across place.

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Fear of crime