WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Residents of Venezuela and South Africa are the least likely among residents in 135 countries worldwide to say they feel safe walking alone at night where they live; in both countries, about one in four adults have this sense of security. In 31 countries, less than half of adults surveyed in 2012 reported feeling safe walking alone at night.
Results aggregated across all countries in which the question was asked in 2012 indicate two-thirds of the world's adult population (69%) feels safe walking alone at night in the area where they live -- a figure that has ticked upward since the global financial crisis began in 2008. That is good news for the global recovery because public perceptions of physical security and social order are prerequisites for healthy economic activity; widespread fears of bodily harm discourage people from venturing out to buy and sell in marketplaces, for example, or taking jobs that require them to stay out after dark.
However, there is a great deal of variance on this question among countries, and in many places -- including the 31 listed -- perceived lack of physical security may stifle badly needed economic energy. Almost all 31 countries are developing or transitional nations, many with high levels of income inequality that often undermine social stability and lead to higher crime rates. Latin America is home to 12 of the 31, more than any other global region. According to the United Nations Development Programme's 2013 Human Development Report, "Latin America, in contrast to overall global trends, has seen income inequality fall since 2000 but still has the most unequal distribution of all regions."
Venezuela's crime problems are among the worst in the Latin America, leading both candidates in the recent presidential election to make the issue a key focus. Though the Venezuelan government no longer releases official crime statistics, the country continues to struggle with high rates of murder, kidnapping, and drug trafficking. In 2012, 40% of Venezuelans told Gallup there were illicit drug trafficking or sales in their area, and 10% said they had had a relative or close friend murdered in the past 12 months. Low ratings on Gallup's physical security question are nothing new in Venezuela; since 2008, less than one-third of Venezuelans have said they feel safe walking in their area alone at night.
Fear Rising Rapidly Amid Greece's Economic Free Fall
Greece and Lithuania were the only European Union countries in 2012 in which less than half of adults (47% and 45%, respectively) said they feel safe walking alone at night. Greece in particular offers an example of how public perceptions of physical security can change rapidly with a country's economic fortunes. About two-thirds of Greeks (65%) said they felt safe walking alone at night in 2005, well before the country's financial meltdown.
Since 2008, Greece's debt crisis has caused its economy to shrink by 20% and sent the unemployment rate soaring to more than 27%. The downward trend in perceptions of safety may partly reflect these worsening economic conditions, as concerns about crime intensify. Just as worrisome, however, is the idea that rising levels of fear may also be contributing to the country's downward spiral by suppressing economic activity.
Gallup's global surveys indicate perceptions of physical security have been improving incrementally since the onset of the global economic crisis. However, there remains no shortage of countries in which most residents fear for their safety in their own neighborhoods.
Freedom from fear of bodily harm is vital not just for economic growth and development, but more fundamentally for the well-being of a populace. Perceptions of personal safety do more than reflect the incidence of crime and violence in society, they give some idea of how those conditions are likely to affect the way people live their lives. As such, they represent important information for global leaders seeking to lay foundations for social stability and prosperity in their countries.
For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact us.
The 2012 results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, in each of 135 countries. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error ranged from ±2 percentage points to ±5 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For aggregated results presented in the global trend for the "safe walking" question, results from individual countries were weighted according to the size of their population. The number of countries included in the measurement varies somewhat from year to year.
For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.