Young Adults Most Likely to Be Crime Victims

by David W. Moore

Residents in urban areas reported more crime than those in suburban or rural areas


PRINCETON, NJ -- Crime is big news these days. The high-profile murder trials of Robert Blake and Scott Peterson, an average of a murder a day in Philadelphia this year, a mass shooting in Wisconsin, the killing of a judge and others in an Atlanta courthouse, and the murder of a judge's husband and mother have all received widespread media coverage, perhaps fostering the impression that crime is on the rise.

Gallup's most recent survey on crime, conducted this past October, showed a steady incidence in the percentage of Americans who reported being victims of a crime in the past year. The survey also shows that young adults were much more likely than older Americans to report being crime victims, and more than four times as likely as people 65 and older. People in urban areas were also more likely to report being victims than people who reside in suburban or rural areas. And lower-income people reported more crime than higher-income people did.

The poll, conducted Oct. 11-14, finds that 30% of all U.S. households experienced some type of crime during the past year, including 18% with one incident and 12% with two or more incidents.

Gallup added the category of Internet crime in 2003, which creates a higher crime rate because of the extra item. Without Internet crime included, the household crime rate was 25% in 2004, compared with 26% in 2003. 

The rate of individual  (as opposed to household) victimization was 21% for all crimes, and 17% for crimes not including the Internet. Individual crime victimization was also essentially the same in 2004 as in 2003.

Crime Highest Among the Young and People in Urban Areas

While there are some variations over the past five years, the highest rates of victimization continue to be among young people, while people aged 65 and older were by far the least likely to report any experience with crime in the past year. (For purposes of comparison with previous years, Internet crime is excluded. Other crimes include property theft, home or apartment broken into, being mugged or physically or sexually assaulted, and robbery.)

In 2004, 40% of young adults (aged 18 to 29) reported having been the victim of at least one crime, compared with only 8% of people aged 65 and older. About a quarter of people in the two middle age groups reported crime. In 2000, 2002, and 2003, the patterns are all similar to 2004's pattern, while in 2001,  young adults were only slightly more likely than people aged 30 to 49 to report some crime.

People in urban areas were also more likely than people in other areas to report crime, but the differences among these groups are not as great as the differences among age groups. Over the past five years, urban respondents have always reported the most crime, but the percentage has varied from 28% to 35%. The current level of 30% compares with 25% among rural residents and 22% among suburbanites.

In 2004, people with lower incomes tended to report more crime than higher-income people did. While 35% of people with household incomes of less than $20,000 a year reported some crime, only 21% of people with household incomes of more than $75,000 a year reported some crime. In previous years, household income has not been as highly correlated with crime rates.

Survey Methods

The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected sample of 1,012 adults across the 48 contiguous states, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 11-14, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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