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Social Change and Crime Rate Trends


Cohen and Felson (1979) have extensively discussed criminology along with the theory of routine activity. This theory dwells a lot on the circumstance with which criminal activities occur with relativity to time, space, the category of offenders, and their targets and agree that criminal acts are considered a routine activity and are interdependent. They support their arguments using the human ecological theory the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of violence of 1969 and the Uniform Crime Report of 1975. The two scholars attribute the increase in the rates of crime to the changes in social and economic trends (Cohen & Felson, 1979)

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Social Change and Crime Rate Trends

Cohen and Felson (1979) dwell more on the type of crimes that they termed as direct contact predatory violations which are criminal activities that target individuals or property. To them, structural changes in daily routine activities have a direct influence on the frequency of crime occurrence. They also classified three main factors that are instrumental in analyzing crime activities under the routine activity approach, these included “motivated offenders, suitable targets and absence of capable guardians against a violation” (Cohen & Felson, 1979, p. 1).

Cohen and Felson (1979) analyzed crime activities from the period 1947 to 1975. To them this period witnessed an increase in the rate of crime and criminal activities due to the following reasons:

First, an increase in criminal activities is linked to business establishments. Cohen and Felson argued that the increase in businesses like retail, wholesale, transport and services merchandizing has led to a rise in the crime rate. An increase in business establishments directly led to a rising employment rate where people were employed to work as salespersons, clerks, and accountants which at times exposed them to attack by criminals who also targeted the business premises. Business establishments are directly associated with the rise in cases of robbery and burglary.

Another factor associated with the rising crime rate is the change in human activity trends. Dynamism in human population is largely associated with criminal activities. These changes in the human population include college enrolment and increased labor force which leaves most families unattended and thus increased the chances for household and residential burglaries. Change in the age structure where the population of young children increased since it is the same youthful population that is linked to criminal activities. Consequently, change in the property trends has a direct link with the rising criminal acts. The increase in population and development of business establishments has led to more investments in durable items like microwave, television and other furniture, automobile and electronic equipment. Upward mobility in the societal structure has increased the tendency of people to own portable and durable items like mobile phones; these items attract criminals because they are subject to burglary. Furthermore, recent manufacturers have emphasized on the portability of this equipment has made them easy to be stolen (Cohen & Felson, 1979).

Family activities have also been associated with increasing crime rate. Family activities vary from single adult households to those employed outside their homes. From the routine dimension, people who work outside their homes often leave their children to be at the home. Since children may not exercise strict caution and also may be easy to manipulate thus they are likely to expose some families and the children to theft. Young adults and children are also more preoccupied with peer group activities than family activities and these present them as the prey of crime victimization.

Consequently, unemployed, inactive, and disabled parts of the population are at high risk of being subjected to crime. The unemployed or inactive people are at high risk of rape personal victimization and larceny, the disabled people are subject to criminal activities because of their inability to protect themselves. The proximity of people to areas prone to criminal activities is also risk factor for being victims of crime.

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Cohen and Felson (1979) have identified three main factors that are necessary for the crime to occur. These are target suitability, motivated offenders and absence of guardians against violation. On target suitability; influences crime occurrences directly, for example, expensive and movable items like vehicles have the greatest tendency of theft. On motivated offenders, any criminal act indeed requires an offender who suffers from criminal inclinations and who demonstrates the ability to fulfill the inclinations. Guardianship on the other hand is important for any criminal activity to occur as in the case of the absence of guardianship. A guardian may be the police or a normal citizen in the times that he performs his daily duties (Cohen & Felson, 1979).

Cohen and Felson (1979) have not associated poverty with crime but they have discussed various daily routine activities which are associated with crime trends. To them, poverty is not a routine activity and can not be used to analyze crime along with the theory of daily routine.

Sacco and Kennedy (2008) introduced the concept of bystanders. To them, bystanders play a critical role and may act as guardians in crime since their role involves deterring a crime, preventing a crime from worsening and also they may call the police or alert the authorities. Sacco and Kennedy (2008) introduced the concept of criminal event theory which treats crime as a social event which often committed at the event of daily interaction or in the course of performing daily activities.

Sacco and Kennedy support the routine activity theory by arguing that crimes are favored by certain conditions that they described as hot spots. They singled out urban areas as the locations that are prone to criminal activities. They also argue that crime rates are higher in economically endowed areas as opposed to economically disadvantaged places.

Sacco and Kennedy (2008) identified three social domains in analyzing crimes. These are the “family/household, leisure domain and work place” (Sacco & Kennedy, 2008) which they associated with criminal activities and any social activity shaping criminal events. Leisure activities contribute to the commission of crime since many criminal activities occur in leisure settings and among the crimes committed at the course of these events are “drugs and substance abuse, vandalism and fighting” (Sacco & Kennedy, 2008).

Unit two of the study guidebook relates to the environments that crime is likely to occur, the place, time, and frequency of its likely occurrence. It seeks to explain and analyze the time of the day, days of the week and months of the year, and the seasons that the likelihood of crime happening and what shapes and influences crime commission.


There is a similarity in the analyses of crime events by both Cohen and Felson (1979) and Sacco and Kennedy (2008). The only deficit in their analysis is that they failed to put into consideration the dynamics that accompany crime like the introduction of technology and its impact in preventing the commission of the crime. The phenomenon of crime keeps on changing with the change in time.

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Cohen, L. E., & Felson, M. (1979). Social change and crime rate trends: A routine activity approach. American Sociological Review, 44(4), 588–608.

Sacco, V & Kennedy, L. (2008). Criminal Event: An Introduction to Criminology. New York, Wadsworth Publishing Company.

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