Is the crime rate really falling? an “aging” u.s. population and its impact on the nation's crime rate, 1980-1984

Darrell J. Steffensmeier, Miles D. Harer

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In this article we apply age-standardization methods to the Uniform Crime Reports and the National Crime Survey to determine whether the recent drop in the nation's index crime rate is due to changes in the age structure of the population. The major findings are as follows: little change in person crimes but small declines in robbery and larceny rates, and a large drop in burglary rates. Overall, the age adjustment explains about 40% of the drop in the 1980-1984 crude index rate in both the UCR and the NCS statistics. When examined over a longer period, 1976-1984, the UCR and the NCS show opposite trend patterns. The UCR shows rising rates from 1976-1980, while the NCS shows declining rates. Two other national sources of crime data, the National Youth Survey and the Monitoring the Future Study, also report declining rates of crime/delinquency in the late seventies. Thus all three sources of unofficial crime data document that crime rates are falling but that the downward trend began prior to the 1980-1984 period. At the end of the report, we speculate that this downward trend in crime may be due to age effects not considered in this report and we forecast crime trends in the nation's crime rate to the year 2000. Also included is a brief summary of 1980-1985 crime trends based on preliminary 1985 figures of UCR and NCS. The 1984-1985 UCR figures rose for most crimes, so that the age-adjusted percentage changes from 1980-1985 show an overall small drop in property crimes but a small rise in personl crimes. On the other hand, the 1985 NCS figures continued their downward trend, so that the age-adjusted percentages show a small drop in person crimes and a moderately large drop in property crimes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-48
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1987

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


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