Pessimistic Bias: Crime Edition
By Bryan Caplan
In chapter 4 of Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, I try to help parents overcome their pessimistic bias. Kids over the age of 1 have long been the safest people in our society, we’re all much safer than we used to be, and kids’ safety rose especially quickly. This is easy to demonstrate for mortality. But other measures of safety also show sharp improvement. In 2008, for example, violent crime hit its lowest measured level in the 37-year history of the National Crime Victimization Survey.
That’s reality. What about perceptions? Gallup has been asking people “Is there more crime in the U.S. than there was a year ago, or less?” for twenty years. People are almost always more likely to say “more” than “less,” but in recent years the paranoia is off the charts. More than 2 out of 3 Americans have been falsely saying “more” since late 2005; the latest rate of more-saying is 74%.
Also striking: There is a huge difference between the perceived severity of crime in “the area where you live” versus “the United States.” 50-60% say the local problem is “not too serious” or “not serious at all”; only 2-5% say the same for the country as a whole. Since the country as a whole is just of bunch of localities, it’s safe to say that there’s a contradiction. And since they observe their localities first hand, but only experience the nation on t.v., it’s safe to say that local perceptions are more reliable. (Still, I should point out even at the local level, more people see crime getting worse).
All this is broadly consistent with a story I’ve been telling for years. But I have to admit that I feel like I’m missing something. Suppose you grant my general thesis about pessimistic bias. As long as parents correctly perceive that their local areas are safe, why would national news make them fear for their children?
HT: Justin Longo via Radley Balko