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Criminality as a Result of Social Structure


Crime is a phenomenon, which presents a serious problem for all the countries in the world. Experts make constant attempts to understand the nature and reasons of it to be able to prevent it and make the communities safer. To reduce crime, it is crucial to analyze the causes, which may contribute to criminal activity. It is generally thought that it can be explained only by the individual biological or psychological characteristics of offenders. However, it cannot justify most of the crimes as people committing them do not have any defects or mental problems. Numerous studies have shown that high crime rates are often associated with a specific community or social status. The sociological approach to the crime phenomenon explains it as a result of social structure and environmental problems, such as poverty, lack of education, employment opportunities, and others. Moreover, this perspective provides numerous options for reducing crime rates by integrating specific programs, aimed at helping people in need.

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Environmental Impact on Criminality

Social Structure Theories

Sociological theories study relationships between different groups and institutions and crime as the result of economic and social processes surrounding people. There are three branches: social disorganization, strain, and culture conflict theories (Pearson, n.d.). The first concept implies the notion of social pathology, which treats society as an organism with crime being a kind of disease. Strain theory is based on a “lack of fit between socially approved success goals and the availability of socially approved means to achieve those goals” (Pearson, n.d., para. 2). According to this approach, those who are unable to succeed with the help of legitimate means address other opportunities, which can help to become economically stable. Culture conflict theory assumes that the reason for criminality is “in a clash of values between differently socialized groups” over the behavior, which is considered to be accepted in the society (Pearson, n.d., para. 2). These theories base their explanations of criminal activity on different social conditions, which are thought to contribute to its growth.

Strain Theory Explanation of Criminology

General strain theory (GST) gives a unique explanation to the concept of crime, which is based on a negative treatment by others. The first modern version of this theory was presented by Robert Merton in 1938 (Brezina, 2017). This approach highlights “the role of negative emotions in the etiology of offending” (Brezina, 2017, para. 1). According to this theory, when an individual experiences certain strain or stress, it generates negative emotions such as anger, frustration, and despair, which, in turn, become a reason for responsive actions and crime is one of the possible solutions. The delinquency in this situation may be used by a person to escape from the strain they are experiencing. For example, in case they are abused by others, they may engage in violence to end it or they may begin to steal to cope with financial problems. According to this approach, the crime may also be a way of revenge against people who have made certain damage to them.

In time, on the basis of the original strain theory, there appeared different versions of it. The most recent one was offered by Robert Agnew in 1992 (“Crime Causation: Sociological Theories”, n.d.). The author of this version highlights many types of strain, which were not considered before, and provides a more detailed discussion of the conditions, which can lead to crime. Agnew points out two types of strains: when others prevent an individual from achieving a goal, and when they take valuable objects a person possesses or present them with negative stimuli (“Crime Causation: Sociological Theories”, n.d.). According to the theory, the nature of crime is based on the failure to achieve one of the three principal goals: money, status or respect, and autonomy from adults for teenagers. A struggle for receiving one of these values may result in delinquency when legitimate ways fail to work. Moreover, studies have found that the chances of crime increase when a person faces a range of negative events. In particular, the phenomenon is connected with such factors as child abuse and neglect, negative relations with parents, teachers, friends, or neighbors, divorce, unemployment, and others.

Strain is also capable of leading to crime among those individuals, who do not have the necessary resources and skills for coping with challenges. For example, it is proven that people with better verbal skills are more prone to negotiating problems with others. Strain also depends on social support as the chances of delinquency are higher for those, who do not have the assistance from relatives, friends, or others. Support is one of the key ways for reducing the chances of criminality as a response to environmental pressures. Moreover, strain can lead to delinquency when its benefits are higher than the required costs, for example, when the probability of being caught is low while the rewards are more worthy. Finally, there are more chances that strain causes delinquency among those who are disposed to criminal activity. There are also individual traits, which increase the chances of a responsive reaction, such as irritability and impulsivity. From these perspectives, strain theory provides numerous factors, which may influence the probability of crime being an answer to the environmental circumstances.

Social Structure Influence on Criminality

There have always been numerous debates about the nature of crime and its dependence on heredity and the genetics of a person. Today, it is generally thought that the development of human behavior affected by multiple factors, including not only genes but environmental factors and interaction between them. It is proven that a family background increases the chances of a certain behavior pattern of an individual. However, sociological factors play a determinative role in the expression of the acquired traits. There is a wide range of various developmental and sociological factors, which are significant in an individual’s inclination towards demonstrating criminal behavior.

Family Background Impact on Criminality

Parental styles and attitudes are one of the key factors influencing the probability of an individual’s future engagement in criminality. A history of family involvement in illegal activities increases the chances of a child repeating the same patterns later in life due to this negative model. Noxious parental behaviors, such as poor supervision or rejection of a child, also contribute to the future appearance of delinquencies. It is proven by numerous studies that children raised by harsh authoritarian or neglectful parents tend to demonstrate conduct problems, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and aggression in their early adolescence, which can develop into criminality (Kuppens & Ceulemans, 2018). Domestic violence and abuse are additional factors contributing to the problem. According to the estimations, such an atmosphere at home doubles an individual’s probability of engaging in delinquent activities (Gaines & Miller, 2017). The influence of the family has the strongest power in early childhood and decreases as the person grows older. However, the lack of warmth and neglect of parents towards their adolescent and grown-up kids have also been proven to impact future offending.

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Education Impact on Criminality

The level and availability of education also contribute to criminality as limited access to receiving new skills is one of the factors leading to the decrease of the life quality, which, in turn, may result in delinquent behaviors. The greater the education options are, the more employment opportunities a person has. The availability of working places guarantees higher quality of life, allowing a person to purchase required resources, such as food and housing, without engaging in delinquent activities. The low level of qualification and education of both parents in the family has also been proven to influence the probability of a child’s involvement in criminality in the future. School achievements are considered to be an index of pro-social behavior, “designated as upholding the moral values of a society” due to their influence on such aspects as financial success and high self-esteem (“Sociological and Environmental Factors of Criminal Behavior”, n.d., para. 7). The research has shown that individuals with learning disabilities and those with lower IQ levels are more prone to violent behavior (“Sociological and Environmental Factors of Criminal Behavior”, n.d.). From this perspective, education is one of the key factors contributing to the problem of criminality as it defines employment opportunities, which help to make a living legally.

Economy Impact on Criminality

Economic factors are also crucial in the problem of criminality. They include wealth and the issue of disparity, poverty, and unemployment. Multiple studies have proven the influence of the financial state on the delinquency level. According to one of the research, in the United States, poverty ultimately results in property crime in long run (Imran, Hosen, & Chowdhury, 2018). It is proven that “deteriorating economic conditions may favor criminal activity” as people often engage in crime as an alternative source of income (Papaioannou, 2017, para. 4). Another factor contributing to poverty and the following increase in criminal activity is unemployment. It has been found that the situation, surrounding people living in poor neighborhoods, creates a poverty trap as people do not have options for finding a job. Such poor communities are accompanied by low-quality housing, underfunded schools, and limited access to services, including healthcare. These circumstances lead to the inability of being employed and reduce the quality of life, which, in turn, may result in the search for other ways of providing for a family, including illegal deeds.

The last economic factor influencing criminality is disparity or inequality between different social groups. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “the average income of the richest 10 % of the population is about nine times more than the poorest 10%, and this gap has been widening in the last decades” (Corvalan & Pazzona, 2018, p. 2). Such inequality may lead to the growth of crime rates because it pushes people into committing property crimes. This way, such economic factors as unemployment, poverty, and inequality have a significant influence on criminality, especially, when combined with other sociological aspects.

Community Impact on Criminality

The community also plays a major role in the development of deviant behaviors. Numerous types of research have shown that the influence of neighborhood becomes more crucial as an individual becomes older. In general, crime is considered to be the reflection of society as delinquency rates demonstrate the problems inside the community. For example, it is proved by the attitude of American people to minorities, such as Muslims. According to the study, this prejudice is connected not with the fear of terrorist attacks, but with the opinion that the culture and values in the United States are the best in the world. Such an attitude leads to offenses, which, in turn, may result in a negative responsive reaction, including a crime. From this perspective, crime is an aspect of society, it is the reflection of the problems and conflicts inside the community.

Programs for Improving the Situation with Criminality

There are multiple ways for reducing crime rates by preventing most of the problems, which lead to the choice of illegal measures for a response to offending. One of the key concepts, capable of helping to solve the situation is community organizations. According to the research, “in a city of 100,000, each new non-profit community organization leads to a 1 percent reduction in the violent crime rate, and a 0.7 percent reduction in the property crime rate” (Atchison, 2018, para. 1). The most significant influence is stated to be from substance abuse programs and workforce development organizations. Providing necessary resources to poor communities is the best way to prevent crime and community organizations performing this duty play an important part in reducing crime rates. There is also a big significance of programs, aimed at early intervention for children exposed to domestic violence, to help young generations find support and necessary tools for achieving their goals in life without turning to criminal activity.

There are also organizations, which serve as a medium between various institutions, including governments. For example, the International Center for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC), which was founded in 1994, unites national and local authorities, public agencies, and non-government organizations (United Nations, n.d.). The forum is aimed at helping different organizations to exchange experience and knowledge for developing programs in crime prevention for making communities safer. The company encourages the use of good practices and tools to reduce the levels of delinquency and violence in the world, providing technical assistance and organizing specific training.


Crime is a serious problem in every country all over the world. According to multiple studies, this phenomenon is a reflection of society as the involvement of an individual in illegal activity is often explained by sociological factors but not the traits of character or mental problems. Social structure and environmental circumstances, including such economic phenomena as poverty and inequality, family background with the history of criminal activity or domestic violence, and the impact of peers and communities have a serious influence on criminality. To reduce the rates and cope with this situation, there are opportunities of creating community organizations, which help people in need to receive the necessary support and resources. Such interference helps to prevent many crimes and make societies safer and better.

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Atchison, N. (2018). Community organizations have important role in lowering crime rates. Brennan Center for Justice. Web.

Brezina, T. (2017). General strain theory. Criminology and Criminal Justice. Web.

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Corvalan, A., & Pazzona, M. (2018). Does inequality really increase crime? Theory and evidence. Web.

Gains, L. K., & Miller, R. L. (2017). Criminal justice in action (10th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Imran, M., Hosen, M., & Chowdhury, M. A. F. (2018). Does poverty lead to crime? Evidence from the United States of America. International Journal of Social Economics, 45(10), 1424-1438. Web.

Kuppens, S., & Ceulemans E. (2018). Parenting styles: a closer look at a well-known concept. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(1), 168–181. Web.

Papaioannou, K.J. (2017). “Hunger makes a thief of any man”: Poverty and crime in British colonial Asia. European Review of Economic History, 21(1), 1-28. Web.

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Pearson. (n.d.). Chapter Summary. Web.

Sociological and environmental factors of criminal behavior. (n.d.). Web.

United Nations. (n.d.). International Center for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC). Web.

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