This study examined the causal relationships among perceived diversity, disorder, decline, and gang fear among Orange County (California) residents.
Using a random-digit-dial survey of 1,000 Orange County residents during a 3-week period in September 1997, the survey measured fear of gang crime and included variables derived from social disorganization theory and prior research. Variables pertained to diversity among community residents, community disorder, and community concern (decline). Latent variable structural equation models were used to re-examine prior findings that diversity led to concerns about disorder, which in turn led to concerns about community decline and then to a fear of gangs. By desegregating the sample according to race/ethnicity, the study also further examined Lane and Meeker's (2003b) findings that minorities were more concerned about disorder, and Whites were more concerned about community decline. Findings from the total and White models indicated that concerns about diversity led to concerns about disorder, which led, in turn, to community decline and then fear of gangs. For Latinos, however, the process was apparently different from that of Whites. For Latinos, diversity concerns influenced perceptions of disorder, which led to fear of gangs. Disorder did not predict community decline, and concerns about decline did not predict fear of gangs. For Latinos, disorder itself, rather than concern over community decline, led to fear of gangs. These findings support the arguments of theorists and researchers who conclude that racial diversity and/or radical change could become symbolic of neighborhood problems such as disorder, decline, and crime. 1 table, 3 figures, 11 notes, 80 references, and appended table of means, standard deviations, and factor loadings for latent variable indicators