The project addresses moral-normative attitudes and criminal behavior amongst elderly citizens. The principle goal is to empirically test the validity of general theories of deviance and criminal behavior on those aged 50+. In addition, an attempt will also be made to estimate the number of criminal related incidents that go unreported. A further object of the project is to study the ‘typification’ of older people in terms of their moral-normative attitudes and their criminal behavior. The requisite project information has been acquired through a standardized mail survey of 3555 people aged between 49 and 81 years old in Baden-Wurttemberg. Besides the theoretically important determinants and correlates of crime, additional information concerning experiences of victimization, personality characteristics, health status, biographical events and social integration has also been obtained. Furthermore, 99 survey participants have been interviewed in person to obtain supplementary information. The project is part of the Research School of the Max Planck International Research Network on Aging (MaxNetAging).

Re­search ob­ject:

Due to a vari­ety of so­cial and demo­graph­ic changes both the ab­so­lute num­ber as well as the re­l­at­ive pro­por­tion of older people in our so­ci­ety is on the rise. This in­crease has primar­ily been fuelled by high­er life ex­pect­ancy rates as a res­ult of im­proved phys­ic­al and men­tal health of older people. As such, know­ledge about the liv­ing con­di­tions, at­ti­tudes and be­ha­vi­or of older people is of in­creas­ing so­cial im­port­ance. This pro­ject con­cen­trates on the mor­al-norm­at­ive at­ti­tudes and crim­in­al be­ha­vi­or of eld­erly cit­izens. In con­trast to the quite fre­quent me­dia at­ten­tion that the top­ic has re­ceived, little sci­entif­ic re­search cur­rently ex­ists on this top­ic. The few em­pir­ic­al stud­ies that do ex­ist are de­script­ive only and are lim­ited to the ana­lys­is of crime data. This pro­ject will com­ple­ment cur­rent re­search by provid­ing in­form­a­tion on un­re­por­ted crim­in­al as well as rel­ev­ant con­tex­tu­al factors that will be eval­u­ated both de­script­ively and the­or­et­ic­ally.

Re­por­ted cases of old-age crime:

Based on the of­fi­cial stat­ist­ics about 6% of all sus­pects are per­sons aged 60 or over. The num­ber of first time of­fend­ers in this group is re­l­at­ively high (between 70% and 80%). No age-spe­cif­ic of­fenses ex­ist, though prop­erty of­fenses are com­mon. Atyp­ic­al of­fenses for the 60+ group in­clude ser­i­ous crimes such as rape and rob­bery. Of note is the re­l­at­ively high pro­por­tion of fe­male of­fend­ers, a fact that has tra­di­tion­ally been at­trib­uted to demo­graph­ic factors. Wheth­er cur­rent demo­graph­ic trends will al­ter this pic­ture is un­cer­tain, though the situ­ation in Ja­pan would sug­gest that this is pos­sible. Ja­pan has the largest per­cent­age of eld­erly per­sons world­wide and stat­ist­ics have re­cor­ded a rap­id in­crease in their crim­in­al be­ha­vi­or. It is there­fore most likely that in­creased longev­ity will lead to the cre­ation of a new ‘so­cial prob­lem’ that aca­dem­ic re­search must at­tempt to re­act to and pre­vent.

Re­search goals:

The study has the fol­low­ing three ob­ject­ives:

  1. Com­ple­ment re­por­ted case stat­ist­ics with in­form­a­tion on un­re­por­ted cases through a) col­lec­tion of the­or­et­ic­ally im­port­ant de­term­in­ants and cor­rel­ates and b) es­tim­a­tion of crime re­lated para­met­ers on the basis of col­lec­ted samples.
  2. Re­view gen­er­al the­or­ies of de­vi­ance and crim­in­al be­ha­vi­or in terms of their ex­plan­at­ory power in re­la­tion to crim­in­al acts amongst eld­erly cit­izens.
  3. Typi­fic­a­tion of ex­per­i­ences, at­ti­tudes and be­ha­vi­or of eld­erly cit­izens to crime.

It is hoped that the res­ults of the pro­ject will lead to a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of some of the con­sequences of (psy­cho-)so­cial prob­lems in up­per adult­hood and al­low for the de­vel­op­ment of ap­pro­pri­ate pre­ven­tion strategies. Moreover, the pro­ject will con­trib­ute to the de­vel­op­ment of the­or­et­ic­al crim­in­o­logy through an ana­lys­is of cur­rent the­or­ies and the in­tro­duc­tion of de­tailed age-crime spe­cif­ic know­ledge.


The pro­ject’s tar­get pop­u­la­tion in­cludes Ger­man cit­izens aged between 49 and 81 years old who are loc­ated in the re­gion ‘Süd­baden’ around the city of Freiburg in Baden-Wurttem­berg. The data col­lec­tion is to be di­vided in­to two sep­ar­ate phases:

Phase 1:Stand­ard­ized mail sur­vey
  • Gross sample size N=3555, net sample size=1997
  • Sampling design: strat­i­fied, clustered, two-stage ran­dom sampling
  • Use of mon­et­ary in­cent­ives

In or­der to test cer­tain crim­in­o­lo­gic­al con­cepts, a por­tion of the sur­vey has taken the form of a ‘factori­al sur­vey’. This in­nov­at­ive ap­proach in­cor­por­ates tra­di­tion­al sur­vey ques­tions with the cent­ral char­ac­ter­ist­ics of the ex­per­i­ment and al­lows for the se­lect­ive ana­lys­is of the isol­ated ef­fects of com­bined factors. The factori­al sur­vey design is rather com­plex and re­quires the in­di­vidu­al­iz­a­tion of the ques­tion­naires. The pro­ject in­cludes 32 dif­fer­ent sur­vey ver­sions that has been sent to 111 or 112 par­ti­cipants.

The sur­vey has un­der­gone a ‘two-phase pre-test’. In the first phase, the ‘new’ ele­ments were eval­u­ated us­ing cog­nit­ive strategies in per­son­al (face-to-face) in­ter­views (n = 8). The re­vised ques­tion­naire was then pos­ted to a fur­ther 400 ran­domly se­lec­ted in­di­vidu­als. This ‘stand­ard pre-test’ in­volved two meth­ods to test how an­onym­ity and the or­der of the ques­tions af­fected the qual­ity and quant­ity of an­swers.

Phase 2:Face-to-face in­ter­views
  • Net sample size n=99
  • Sampling design: ran­dom sampling from sur­vey re­spond­ents who con­sen­ted to face-to-face in­ter­view
  • Ap­plic­a­tion of the Di­lemma-Tech­nique (Kohl­berg)

Pro­ject status (June 2014):

The data ana­lys­is has been com­pleted. The main re­search re­port (re­gard­ing the mail sur­vey) is fin­ished (Kunz forth­com­ing 2014a) , an­oth­er re­search re­port (re­gard­ing the face-to-face in­ter­views) is in pre­par­a­tion (Kunz 2014b).

Pro­ject su­per­vi­sion:

Prof. Dr. Dr. hc. Hans-Jörg Al­brecht (Max Planck In­sti­tute Freiburg)
Prof. Dr. Baldo Blinkert (In­sti­tute for So­ci­ology, Uni­versity of Freiburg)