Old age and fear of crime: cross-national evidence for a decreased impact of neighbourhood disadvantage in older age

Göran Köber, Dietrich Oberwittler, Rebecca Wickes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Fear of crime among older people has been a frequent topic in ageing research, criminology and urban studies. The 'environmental docility hypothesis' assumes that older people are more vulnerable to adverse neighbourhood conditions than younger age groups. Yet, few studies have tested this influential hypothesis using samples of respondents covering the complete adult lifespan. Looking at fear of crime, we investigated the person-environment interaction of age and neighbourhood disadvantage, using two independent surveys comprising 12,620 respondents aged 25-90 years residing in 435 neighbourhoods in four cities in Germany and Australia. We used multi-level analysis and cross-level interactions to model age-differential effects of neighbourhood disadvantage on fear. Contrary to the hypothesis, we found a weakening of neighbourhood effects on fear with age. The strong effect of neighbourhood disadvantage on fear of crime dropped by around half from the youngest (25 years) to the oldest age (90 years) in both countries. Younger people were almost as fearful as older people in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, but older people were considerably more fearful than younger ages in better-off neighbourhoods. We found limited empirical support for the assumption that this diminished association between neighbourhood disadvantage and fear can be explained by the stronger neighbourhood attachment of older people. The limitations of the analysis and potential future directions of research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1629-1658
Number of pages30
JournalAgeing & Society
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • age
  • fear of crime
  • interaction effects
  • multi-level modelling
  • neighbourhood
  • social disadvantage

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