Social Problem of Inequality

Words: 2306
Topic: Sociology


The salient crime that dominates people’s considerations is violent crime due to the fatal, shocking and traumatizing aftermath. This has led to a greater focus on this type of crime in comparison to property crime. Property crimes are the common crimes that occur in everyday life, and they do not leave a traumatizing impact on the victims.

Violent crimes occur less often and mainly occur in certain prone areas, for instance in areas with a high rate of drug-trafficking. These crimes include forcible rape, murder, aggravated assault, and robbery with violence. These kinds of crime are carried out by street gangs and those who engage in illegal drug business.

I concur with some of those researchers such as Neumayer (2005) who indicate that social inequality has no relationship with violent crime as opposed to property crime. Property crimes on the other hand occur more often because they are a means to survival.

They involve shoplifting, burglary, theft, and arson. According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report released in September 2013, (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2013), the number of violent crimes increased in 2012 by 0.7% while property crimes decreased by 0.9%.

Despite the decrease, property crimes are more; “386.9 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants were reported for violent crimes in comparison to 2,859.2 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants for property crime” (Federal Bureau of Investigation). The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program is involved in the statistical compilation of offense and arrest submitted by participating law enforcement agencies (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2013).

Daly, Margo and Shawn’s (2001) work show that social and biological sciences are in support of the view that the society is a great determinant of crime since they suggest that unequal distribution of resources provokes antisocial behavior. Crime rates vary depending on time and place as noted by Archer and Gartner (cited in Daly, Margo and Shawn 2001).

Merton’s anomie/strain theory is fundamental in laying the ground for the association between the society and crime. Various studies have noted a significant relationship between the two, but others have not. This study will investigate various institutional means of achieving cultural goals in relation to crime in an attempt to shed light on this subject that has been a reason for contentious debate.

Literature Review

Studies of social inequality and crime go back as far as in the early nineteenth century (Kposowa, Kevin and Beatrice 1995). In a study by Loftin and Hill (cited Kposowa, Kevin and Beatrice 1995), poverty index indicated a strong correlation with homicide rates with regard to Gini coefficient income inequality, non-white and the South.

Kposowa, Kevin and Beatrice (1995) criticized the exclusion of non-urban areas and important indicators of social inequality such as family disruption and divorce. Their study, therefore, included non-urban areas and social inequality factors that had not been included in previous studies.

According to their findings, there is no southern subculture of violence; hence no relationship between the South and violent crime as has been the case with other studies that have mainly focused on urban areas. Kposowa, Kevin and Beatrice (1995) found that the strongest determinants of violent and property crimes are urbanity and population density, which are the pressures that Merton talks of in his anomie/strain theory (Murphy and Mathew 2008).

Kposowa, Kevin and Beatrice (1995) dismiss cultures of violence as stated by various researchers such as Peterson (2012). Kposowa, Kevin and Beatrice (1995), based on their results, assert that factors that explain crime in the minority cultures such as the Blacks, Hispanic and Native Americans are the same all over.

The main factors that have been emphasized include population density, poverty, and female headed households as a measure for family disruption.

In his article, Kramer (2000) focuses on crime among the young people. He hypothesizes that poverty, social exclusion, and inequality are the determinants of antisocial behavior among this group of people. The impact of these factors on close-in institutions encourages violence.

This is why he argues that “structural forces reduce the ability of families and communities to provide the social support and informal social control needed to prevent youth violence” (Kramer 2000). Maume and Matthew (2003) study is extended in favor of Merton’s strain theory. They suggest that the American Dream, as proposed by Merton, was the reason why America has more crime rates compared to other nations.

According to Merton’s anomie and strain theories, individuals’ understanding of acceptable behavior has its roots in societal institutions. According to Merton, an acceptable behavior is normal and it is that which is psychologically acceptable. It does not have to be culturally approved as long as it is in response to social conditions’ determinants.

On a different note, however, the very same societal institutions are the reason why criminality and deviance prevails. Societal pressures and especially those linked to the American dream are the push factors that lead to engagement in nonconforming demeanor. These anomie and strain theories postulate that criminality is attributed to a spectrum of social causes like the American dream according to Merton (cited in Murphy and Mathew 2008).

Merton’s work is related to the cultural and social structures. The cultural structure pertains to the normative values that can be categorized as goals and means, and which govern behavior common in society. Social structure focuses on social relationships.

In an interview conducted by Cullen and Steven with Merton (Cullen and Steven 2007), Merton stated that the culture alongside its goals, purposes and interests represent the ‘aspirational reference frame’. Institutional norms are the means of achieving these goals. The social structure is paramount in determining a culture’s or people’s access to the acceptable means of achieving the goals.

Merton used ‘differential opportunity structures’ to support his theory. Deviate demeanor ensues when individuals lack the means of achieving their culturally prescribed goals, as is the case with Blacks. The Blacks are deprived of the institutional means of achieving their cultural goals; hence, the reason why most of them in the U.S. live in deplorable conditions.

Daly, Margo and Shawn (2001) hypothesize that income inequality accounts for a substantial fraction of variation in homicide rates based on the Gini index of income inequality. Their study went on to affirm this hypothesis. According to their findings, inequitable distribution of resources strongly determines the rate of violent crime.

Daly, Margo and Shawn (2001) show that income inequality is a significant predictor of provincial homicide rates, even after removal of median household income.

This is rather spurious since income inequality and average income levels have had a positive correlation based on computations of “province-level Gini indices in relation to family, household, and individual units, an on income before government transfer payments, after transfers but before taxes and after both” (Daly, Margo and Shawn 2001).

Despite the ubiquity of racial and ethnic disparity associated with crime and criminal justice in the United States, understanding this disparity with regard to crime has not yet been fully understood. According to Peterson (2012), 72% of the U.S. population is made up of whites, yet only 47% homicide victims and 32% homicide offenders are Whites.

This is in comparison to the Blacks’ statistics which indicate that 13% of the U.S. population is made up of Blacks yet 50% homicide victims and 38% offenders are blacks. In trying to understand the rationale behind crime variation across race, Peterson has pointed out the challenges involved.

It is arduous to find a heavily poor White Urban neighborhood that is ecologically similar to the Blacks’; there are very few affluent Black areas in comparison to the Whites’ as well.

These challenges therefore make the data generated by Peterson (2012) spurious. In agreement with Kposowa, Kevin and Beatrice (1995), it is not right for a researcher to conclude that there are subcultures of violence without exposing all cultures to similar social structures and strains.

Pettit and Bruce (2004) second Peterson’s study that more Blacks are incarcerated and they go further to attribute this to low education and subsequent slim economic opportunities. Even though it seems true that more Blacks are arrested compared to Whites, it is not because that’s what they are.

Merton’s theory is very important in clarifying that social pressures force individuals to engage in antisocial behaviors. Blacks and other minority racial groups in the U.S. are exposed to limited socioeconomic opportunities and as a result, they tend to engage in antisocial activities.

It is very important to understand that there is a difference between property and violent crime; whereas inequality has been shown to have an insignificant effect on property crime, this is not the case with regard to violent crime that has an elasticity greater than 0.5 (Kelly 2000). On the other hand, poverty and police activity have robust effects on property crime, but minuscule on violent crime.

Kelly even thinks that the economic theory best explains property crime, while strain and social disorganization theories are ideal for explaining violent crimes. However, contrary to Kelly opinion, this study attempts to use the strain theory in explaining property crimes.

Savolainen’s study showed a negative relationship between economic inequality and strength of the welfare state. Based on her findings, Savolainen concluded that economic inequality greatly determines the rates of national homicide in societies that have weak institutions of social protection. However, the same was not the case in more collectivist nations (Savolainen 2000).

Savolainen’s findings were in favor of the institutional anomie theory. There was a strong correlation between economic discrimination and decommodification while the converse was the case between the Gini index of income inequality and decommodification (Savolainen 20001).

On the other hand, Neumayer’s (2005) study indicates that where fixed effects and dynamic estimation prevail, income inequality, measured by either the Gini coefficient or income Quintiles ratios, is insignificant unless random-effects estimation is applied.

Neumayer (2005) justifies these results by stating that there could be too much noise or minuscule actual over-time variation in income inequality between states such that the coefficient is not sufficient to be statistically significant from 0.

There is a lot of controversy with regard to the correlation between social inequality and crime. While some studies indicate that there is a strong relation between crime and the salient income inequality variable, other studies like that of Neumayer (2005) don’t.

There is voluminous literature on the effect of social inequality on violent crimes like homicide, but very little scientific literature is available and accessible on property crimes due to limited studies on this topic.

Despite numerous studies on violent crime, there is a need to delineate the relationship between violent crime and social inequality in relation to specific populations. This study’s concern is to establish the relationship between social inequality and property crime.


  1. There is no relationship between the level of education and property crime in the U.S.
  2. There is no relationship between household income and property crime in the U.S.
  3. There is no relationship between income inequality and property crime in the U.S.
  4. There is no relationship between gender and property crime in the U.S.
  5. There is no relationship between race and property crime in the U.S.
  6. There is no relationship between family disruptions and property crime in the U.S.
  7. There is no relationship between employment and property crime in the U.S.


Researchers experience great challenges accessing data across states as indicated by Pratt and Timothy (2003). I will use multistage stratified sampling to get the number of states that will be included in my study. The selected States will be my source of information. I will use data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which measures property crime in relation to motor vehicle theft, burglary and property theft.

This information is limited because it does not account for property crimes that happen in business premises. To address this challenge, I will obtain a warrant to use FBI data as well. This information will include a description of the household where the crime was committed.

Income inequality, with reference to the Gini coefficient will be measured using the concentration of income within a range of 0 to 1; 0 being absolute equality and 1 being maximum inequality. Income inequality and average household have been positively correlated, but according to Daly, Margo and Shawn (2001), they yield different results in relation to crime. The study will therefore conduct ANOVA to verify this claim.

Other independent variables will include gender, family disruptions, employment, education, and race. However, race will apply in situations where there is no significant difference in Gini coefficient, family disruptions and employment across races. Multivariate regression analysis will be used to determine those factors that have a significant predictive impact on property crime.

Policy Recommendations

Charitable organizations, well-wishers and the government should join forces in empowering the minority groups in the U.S. The Black people and other minority groups live in deplorable conditions. If they would be given an equal chance to study and reach their optimal capacity by increasing their accessibility to institutional structures, I am sure the present situation would change.

In addition, the notion of a subculture of violence would also disappear. The Whites should refrain from blocking and looking down upon the Blacks. The days of slavery and colonization ended a long time ago. In the new world, we should embrace a culture of uplifting the lives of our fellow men instead of exploiting them for selfish benefits.

Individual Whites should be educated on racial equality. Racial discrimination begins from the close-in institutions like the family, schools and the community.

If the Whites could learn to accept the Black people and their shortcomings, and help them to become better, they would not see them as underprivileged beings. We are all different and even though the Blacks may seem to be less innovative than the Whites, it does not mean they are in any way inferior.


Cullen, Francis T. and Steven F. Messner. 2007. “The making of criminology revisited.” Theoretical Criminology 11(1): 5-37.

Daly, Martin, Margo Wilson and Shawn Vasdev. 2001. “Income inequality and homicide rates in Canada and the United States.” Canadian Journal of Criminology 43(2): 219-236.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2013. “FBI Releases 2012 Crime Statistics.”

Kelly, Morgan. 2000. “Inequality and Crime.” The Review of Economics and Statistics 82(4): 530-539.

Kposowa, Augustine J., Kevin D. Breault and Beatrice M. Harrison. 1995. “Reassessing the structural covariates of violent and property crimes in the USA: a county level analysis.” British Journal of Sociology 46(1): 79-105.

Kramer, Ronald C. 2000. “Poverty, Inequality, and Youth Violence.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 567: 123-139.

Maume, Michael O. and Matthew R. Lee. 2003. “Social institutions and violence: a sub-national test of institutional anomie theory.” Criminology 41(4): 1137- 1172.

Murphy, Daniel S. and Mathew B. Robinson. 2008. “The Maximizer: Clarifying Merton’s theories of anomie and strain.” Theoretical Criminology 12(4): 501- 521.

Neumayer, Eric. 2005. “Inequality and violent crime: evidence from data on robbery and violent theft.” Journal of Peace and Research 42(1): 101-112.

Peterson, Ruth D. 2012. “The central place of race in crime and justice-the American society of criminology’s 2011 Sutherland Address.” American Society of Criminology 50(2): 303-328.

Pettit, Becky and Bruce Western. 2004. “Mass imprisonment and the life course: Race and class inequality in U.S. incarceration.” American Sociological Review 69: 151-169.

Pratt, Travis C. and Timothy Godsey. 2003. “Social support, inequality, and homicide: a cross-national test of an integrated theoretical model.” Criminology 41(3): 611-643.

Savolainen, Jukka. 2000. “Inequality, welfare state, and homicide: further support for the institutional anomie theory.” Criminology 38(4): 1021-1042.