Publication

Attitudes Towards Youth Crime and Willingness to Intervene: Findings from the 2006 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey

Published: 4 Feb 2008
Part of:
Education
ISBN:
ISBN97807559

This report presents findings from a module of questions included in the 2006 Scottish Social Attitudes survey and revisits a theme first addressed by survey in 2004, namely public attitudes towards young people and youth crime.

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Contents
Attitudes Towards Youth Crime and Willingness to Intervene: Findings from the 2006 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey
CHAPTER THREE VIEWS OF YOUNG PEOPLE AND YOUTH CRIME

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CHAPTER THREE VIEWS OF YOUNG PEOPLE AND YOUTH CRIME

Introduction

It was argued in the conclusion to the report on the 2004 module that public attitudes towards young people and youth crime should be seen as not simply reflecting, but helping to constitute the problem of 'youth crime'. With that in mind, the 2006 module revisited a number of measures of public attitudes in this area. General attitudes towards young people were again documented, since these both shape and are shaped by the on-going public, political and media concern with young people and anti-social behaviour. Perceptions of the prevalence of youth crime were also examined, as an indicator of what people hear and believe to be happening in their own neighbourhoods. Finally, questions were asked about the direct impact on respondents of the same range of youth crime-related behaviours.

General attitudes towards young people

3.1 As in the 2004 survey, respondents were presented with a series of attitude statements relating to young people:

  • The behaviour of young people today is no worse than it was in the past
  • Most young people are responsible and well-behaved
  • Young people today have no respect for older people
  • Most young people are helpful and friendly
  • Young people are more likely than older people to be the victims of crime.

Table 5 - Agreement/disagreement with statements about young people (%)

Agree/agree strongly

Neither

Disagree/ disagree strongly

Sample size

%

%

%

The behaviour of young people today is no worse than it was in the past

28

11

62

1575

Most young people are responsible and well-behaved

53

19

28

1588

Young people today have no respect for older people

45

21

34

1588

Most young people are helpful and friendly

50

29

21

1581

3.2 The pattern of results is extremely close to that obtained in 2004 - indeed there is no statistically significant variation in results between the two years - and suggests a continuing ambivalence in adult attitudes towards young people. While 62% disagree that the behaviour of young people is no worse than in the past and 45% agree that young people today have no respect for older people, more than half also agree that most people are helpful and friendly and a similar proportion that most are responsible and well-behaved.

3.3 Of course, this ambivalence exists at the level of the sample as a whole, rather than necessarily being present within the views of individuals. For example, 79% of those who agree that young people have no respect for older people disagree that most young people are helpful and friendly; while 77% of those who disagree that young people have no respect for older people agree that most young people are helpful and friendly. In other words, there is a tension between the views of different sets of adults, some of whom are broadly positive and others broadly negative in their attitudes towards young people.

3.4 In order to facilitate an analysis of the key drivers of positive and negative perceptions of young people in general, the four items were scaled to create a single index with a minimum score of 4 (indicating the most positive end of the spectrum) and a maximum score of 16 (indicating the least positive). By assigning cases to tertiles, it was possible to categorise individuals as belonging to the 'most positive', 'least positive' or 'intermediate' groups. On the basis of a logistic regression model, the following variables were shown to have the strongest independent association with more positive attitudes.

Table 6 - General attitudes towards young people by key variables (row percentages)

Most positive group

Intermediate group

Least positive group

Sample size

%

%

%

All

34

32

34

1594

Perceptions of youth crime problems

Most common

17

29

55

464

Least common

49

30

20

489

Highest educational qualification

Degree/Higher Education

46

30

25

479

None

21

34

45

394

Social trust

Most can be trusted

46

32

22

831

Can't be too careful

21

31

48

702

Age

18-24

23

24

53

108

25-34

29

31

40

222

35-44

35

32

33

325

45-54

42

30

28

270

55-64

35

37

28

270

65+

34

34

32

396

Contact with 16 to 24 year-olds in area

Know none

27

37

36

362

Know some/all

36

30

34

1232

3.5 As in 2004, what is most striking is that those in the youngest age group (18 to 24 year-olds) hold the least positive views of young people, while those aged 65 and over hold much more positive views. Positive views of young people are also independently associated with lower levels of perceived youth crime problems (see below), lower levels of contact with young people aged 16 to 24, higher levels of educational attainment and higher levels of social trust.

Perceptions of prevalence of local youth crime problems

3.6 We turn now from general attitudes towards young people to adult views and experiences of youth crime and disorder. Respondents were asked how common they felt a range of specific youth-crime related problems were in their own area. As the following table shows, the proportion saying each was either very or fairly common ranged from around a fifth to a half of those interviewed (in relation to young people using drugs in public and being noisy in the street, respectively).

Table 7 - Perceptions of prevalence of local youth crime problems (%)

Young people being noisy in the street

Vandalism or graffiti caused by young people

Young people being drunk in public

Young people using drugs in public

Young people behaving in a threatening way

%

%

%

%

%

Very common

17

11

16

7

7

Fairly common

32

25

31

12

18

Not very common

36

44

34

37

47

Not at all common

15

20

17

36

27

(Don't know)

*

*

2

7

1

Sample size

1594

1594

1594

1594

1594

3.7 Again, these variables were combined into a scale to facilitate analysis of the key factors associated with perceptions of local youth crime problems as being very common. By far the most powerful predictor of belonging to the 'most common' group was area deprivation. As might be expected, youth crime was much more likely to be seen as common in areas of greater deprivation, a relationship summarised in the following graph.

Figure 6 - Perceptions of prevalence of youth crime by area deprivation (%)

Figure 6 - Perceptions of prevalence of youth crime by area deprivation (%)

Sample size: 1594

3.8 Other variables independently associated with seeing youth crime problems as more common included being in the social rented sector, being directly affected by youth crime and having less positive views of young people in general. Interestingly, a higher level of contact with 16 to 24 year-olds is associated with seeing youth crime problems as more common - perhaps reflecting the fact that the group most likely to experience victimisation are young people themselves.

Table 8 - Perceptions of prevalence of youth crime problems by key variables (row percentages)

Most common

Intermediate

Least common

Sample size

%

%

%

All

32

35

33

1594

Directly affected by youth crime

Most affected

66

32

2

516

Least affected

10

26

64

468

Contact with 16 to 24 year-olds in area

Know most

37

28

28

241

Know none

31

35

41

631

General attitudes towards young people

Most positive

16

37

47

531

Least positive

52

30

18

517

Area deprivation

Most deprived

59

31

10

281

Least deprived

11

36

53

291

Tenure

Owner-occupier

26

36

38

983

Social renter

52

29

19

343

Direct experience of local youth crime problems

3.9 While perceptions of the prevalence of particular types of crime and disorder undoubtedly reflect something important about the 'problem of youth crime', they should not necessarily be read as straightforward reflections of crime reality. Individuals and neighbourhoods may be differentially sensitised to such issues, with the result that the same objective level of behaviour in one area may be seen as much more prevalent or problematic than in another. Factors shaping this will include the architecture and geography of different communities (in some areas, for example, vandalism and graffiti may be much more visible than in others) and tolerance of particular types of disturbance ( e.g. noise from teenagers hanging around in the street).

3.10 Consequently it was also decided to ask respondents about the extent to which they had been directly affected by each of the youth crime-related problems discussed above. While this concept is itself problematic - e.g. what exactly does it mean to be 'directly affected'? - it was hoped that this would at least help to distinguish beliefs or sensitivities relating to youth crime from its actual consequences.

3.11 What is immediately clear is that this measure suggests a less dramatic problem than does the measure of perceived prevalence. For all five types of behaviour, the vast majority of those interviewed say that they have been directly affected either 'not very much' or 'not at all'.

Table 9 - Extent to which 'directly affected' by local youth crime problems (%)

Young people being noisy in the street

Vandalism or graffiti caused by young people

Young people being drunk in public

Young people using drugs in public

Young people behaving in a threatening way

%

%

%

%

%

A great deal

3

2

3

1

2

Quite a lot

13

9

14

5

6

Not very much

41

29

31

21

25

Not at all

43

60

52

73

67

(Don't know)

0

*

0

*

0

Sample size

1594

1594

1594

1594

1594

3.12 That is not to say that there is no association between perceptions of the prevalence of specific problems and being directly affected by them - indeed the two are very strongly correlated - but, on all five measures, the proportion of respondents saying they had been directly affected 'quite a lot' or 'a great deal' was markedly smaller than that saying the problem was 'very common' in their area.

Figure 7 - Perceived prevalence versus direct effects of youth crime-related problems (%)

Figure 7 - Perceived prevalence versus direct effects of youth crime-related problems (%)

Sample size: 1594

3.13 When the various items are scaled, and respondents are assigned to tertiles according to their responses across the five measures, a handful of significant and independent associations emerge from a logistic regression. It is notable, for example, that those living in remote and rural communities are less likely than those in urban areas and, especially, accessible small towns to fall into the 'most directly affected' category. 3 It is also striking that the proportion of older people falling into the 'least directly affected' group is higher than for other age groups, although this may reflect the fact that they are less likely to use public spaces, especially after dark, perhaps even as a result of crime-related anxiety. 4 Less surprising, perhaps, is the finding that those who hold the least positive attitudes towards young people in general are more likely to report having been directly affected by youth crime.

Table 10 - Extent to which 'directly affected' by local youth crime problems by key variables (row percentages)

Most directly affected

Intermediate

Least directly affected

Sample size

%

%

%

All

34

33

33

1594

Urban-rural classification

Large urban

39

36

26

508

Other urban

35

35

31

375

Accessible small towns

43

28

30

187

Remote small towns

14

43

43

113

Accessible rural

27

28

45

219

Remote rural

12

25

63

192

General attitudes towards young people

Most positive

22

36

42

531

Least positive

48

29

24

517

Perceptions of youth crime problems

Most common

68

23

10

459

Least common

2

32

66

486

Age group

18-24

39

35

27

108

25-34

40

39

21

222

35-44

35

32

33

325

45-54

37

35

29

270

55-64

34

30

36

270

65+

22

29

49

396

Key points

  • General attitudes towards young people appear largely unchanged since 2004 and remain characterised by a tension between sympathy for and concern about 'young people today'.
  • Key predictors of a more positive attitude towards young people included higher levels of educational attainment, living in a less deprived area and having at least some contact with young people aged 16 to 24.
  • Intriguingly, the most negative attitudes towards 'young people today' were expressed by the youngest age group covered by the survey - those who were themselves aged 18-24 at time of interview. Those aged 55 and over, by contrast, tended to hold much more positive views.
  • Between a fifth and a half of those interviewed thought that the five youth crime-related problems asked about were either very or fairly common in their own neighbourhood, but there was wide variation in overall perceptions of prevalence across sub-groups.
  • One of the most powerful predictors of seeing youth crime problems as common was area deprivation. Other variables independently associated with perceiving youth crime as common included lack of contact with 16 to 24 year-olds in the neighbourhood, living in social rented housing, being directly affected by youth crime and having less positive views of young people in general.
  • A measure of the extent to which individuals have been directly affected by the various types of youth crime-related behaviour suggests a slightly less dramatic picture of the 'problem of youth crime'. Although clearly related to perceived prevalence, for each type of behaviour, the proportion indicating they had been affected a 'great deal' or 'quite a lot' was very much lower than those saying the problem was 'very' or 'fairly common' in their area.