Socio Economic Factors Influencing Delinquency


Contemporary delinquency theories can be deployed in supporting economic deprivation as a contributing factor in elucidating many crimes, though it is directly linked to property crimes like theft (Borraz & González, 2011). However, this does not imply that the cause-and-effect association exists. This is because many lower-class citizens do not choose to engage in crime. According to Fajnzylber, Lederman, & Loayza (2002), theorists frequently consider other aspects of social disorganization, which are available in areas where poverty is absent. Such aspects of social disorganizations include poor housing, single-family homes, unemployment, lack of housing, and the absence of other community and social controls (Finklea, 2011). It would be impossible, if not difficult, to distinguish the aspects and evaluate how each of them solely affects the crime rates (Gould, Weinberg, & Mustard, 2002). In this regard, this research paper discusses the various socio-economic factors influencing delinquency.

According to early theories of sociology, people have a free will to engage in or avoid criminal behaviors (Imrohoroglu, Merlo, & Rupert, 2000). The rational choice theory draws from classical criminology in which people weigh the risks and benefits of engaging in crime. Kelly (2000) described the evolution to a large organic society as resulting in societal or anomie strain. This can be associated with the conflict perception of crime, in which the haves have written the law to safeguard themselves from the have-nots. Similarly, street offenses are accorded greater sentences than the crimes in the suites (Raphael & Winter-Ebmer, 2001). The poor are often sentenced harshly, whereas the rich are sentenced leniently for crimes that are even more serious. This interactionist perception of crime implies that crime and deviance are described based on those in power. It also implies that crime is given a meaning by the manner in which people respond to it (Verdier & Zenou, 2001).

Kelly (2000) believed that the physical and social environment influence the behavior of an individual. Urbanization is perceived as the major source of crime because the people who move into the city are more than the number of jobs in the city. Large number of jobless individuals becomes a burden and results in the creation of social work organizations, which needs to support them. In spite of this, crimes rates appeared to increase in the city slums. This is very pertinent in explaining property theft or any other delinquency designed to offer an illegal gain. Raphael & Winter-Ebmer, (2001) found out that the law enforcement is confronted by the fact that residents within the neighborhoods have little in common concerning customs or values.

According to social theories advanced by Imrohoroglu, Merlo, & Rupert (2000), an individual might learn something by watching others or television. If a person, especially a child, resides in a neighborhood with high crime rates, he or she is vulnerable to acting out similar behavior he or she witnesses daily. This process of learning other behavior via seeing is referred to as behavior reinforcement of behavior modeling. Behavior might be explicitly reinforced, which is copying the behavior, which has been purely observed (Dutta & Husain, 2009). When family members or friends steal, the young vulnerable children are likely to copy that criminal behavior and start a life of theft in order support their own lifestyle. The concept is that an individual, in this case the youth, imitate others in the proportion to the frequency of contact with those adult criminals.

Similarly, Kelly’s (2000) differential relationship theory pointed out that criminal behavior is learned in social environment. Crimes arise because of the combination of values, opportunity and situation. Differential relationship is a factually reference to the groupings, which form between people, and not essentially criminals. The differential relationships are a system of a culture and values within the grouping. This relationship might be viewed in gangs of like-minded criminals who commit a crime in a group (Gelsthorpe & Morris, 2002).

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The subcultures formed in gangs, groups and neighborhoods left by middle-class residents who relocated to suburbs influence crime. According to Finklea (2011), these subcultures are inherently malicious, negative and non-utilitarian. The youths residing in slum neighborhoods might feel frustrated with their status, similar to is pointed out by conflict theories. Raphael & Winter-Ebmer (2001) added that most of these subcultures within gangs, or groups are frequently subcultures of deviance. Whereas subcultures might develop among youths who are poor, the members of an inner city slum neighborhood or a gang are particularly suffering from poverty and unemployment. A community that is not integrated might lack social control and organization over juvenile criminals, and cause the youths to associate in groups that provide a sense of belonging and respect (Mehlum, Moene, & Torvik, 2005). This might also be referred to as conflict subcultures that seek belonging and unlawful moneymaking opportunities.

Strain, Anomie and Social Disorganization

Strain is another social determinant of crime. According to Verdier & Zenou (2001), strain emerges during the times of change, as the society becomes complex and organic. It might also result in times when the society strongly emphasizes the attainment of material possessions such as wealth. The society’s structure might limit the likelihood of individuals to attain success via socially acknowledged and institutionalized means. In addition, strain results from its theoretical components like lack of opportunity, poverty and the creation of unlawful groups (Murray, 2007).  Anomie causes people to develop optional values that frequently rebel against societal in order to attain success via unlawful means. Bizarrely, in time of economic growth, the rates of crime actually elevate. The theory of relative deprivation points out that greater success of some individuals in the society sometimes encourages the lower-class individuals to engage in crime for their own self-gain. This might also be the case for the juvenile offenders (Neumayer, 2003). The difference in wealth status between families might motivate youths from low class families to commit crimes to benefit their families. This usually occurs because the youths from these poor families admire the status of those from high-status family. Relative deprivation is more of a comparative, and perception in the minds of a person concerning his or her surroundings.

Finklea (2011) articulated the concepts of social disorganization that attempted to prove that the life in slum neighborhood creates a proclivity of engaging in criminal activities. This is particularly true for property crimes because the residents of these neighborhoods have little material possessions and might feel the only alternative to acquire material wealth are to steal or engage in unlawful moneymaking activities. Imrohoroglu, Merlo, & Rupert (2000), in the criticism of the concepts of social disorganization, pointed out those higher rates of crime might be an indication of the presence of police in a certain neighborhood. Higher rates of crime might also be a reflection of the notion that the police make the decision to arrest based on the social status of a criminal.

Similar studies concerning social ecology have also argued that ecological condition influence individuals to engage in crime (Seiter & Kadela, 2003). Some of the social ecological conditions that increase the rates of crime include low income, poor housing, transient residents lack of social control and lack of social organization. Most recent studies on social disorganization still point out that social disorganization results in delinquency due to the weakened social control. According to Borraz & González (2011), social control is a key remedy for social disorganization and can be attained through cleaning the neighborhoods, establishing crime watch groups, establishing agencies to assist people, disciplining in or out of the home and other optional punishment to imprisonment.

The broken windows theory also describes the socioeconomic influences on delinquency (Pager, 2003). The theory relates to social organization because it associates the decay in the neighborhood to an elevation in crime rates. According to this theory, if petty crimes are not dealt with or decaying facilities are not maintained, it indicates a lack of concern in the community by residents. It, therefore, encourages worse crime. This might increase the number of gangs, vandalism and drug abuse. Other crimes that this might also increase are robbery, theft and burglary (Mehlum, Moene, & Torvik, 2005). There is a view that no individual is watching and no one seems to be on the lookout for such crimes. Social disorganization and crimes are perceived to derive from unemployment, population density, low collective efficacy and poverty. People in the community are responsible for determining what their values are and what they want. Social norms or influence shapes the behavior of people in the community (Gould, Weinberg, & Mustard, 2002). According to the broken windows theory, urban deterioration is the main cause of crime. In fact, it is the supporting case for the adoption of community policing. Via community policing, law enforcement efforts are directed and strengthened at target areas. Nevertheless, if law enforcement officers spend much energy and time, they might create hostility from the neighborhoods feeling they are being unreasonably targeted.

Social structure perspective of crime has three related branches. The first is social disorganization theory and it focuses on the conditions of the environment as the major causes of increased crime rates. This theory considers lack of social control, neighborhood conditions, conflicting social values, family conditions, unemployment, single-family homes and criminal groups and gangs as causes of criminal activities (Murray, 2007). The second is the strain theory, which focuses on the conflict between the means and goals. This theory considers the uneven distribution of power and wealth, alternative methods of attaining goals, such as theft, drug trafficking and robber, and frustration as causes of criminal activities. The third is cultural deviance theory, which is a combination of the above two theories. According to cultural deviance theory, the lower class culture has its own beliefs and values, which often support criminal activity such as stealing from those in the upper class culture. According to Finklea (2011), these cultures might be spread or taught to others via the transmission of culture from one generation to another. However, the transmission of culture can also be explained in terms of social learning.

Kelly (2000) agrees with the theory of social disorganization, though he argues that other factors might provide as much cause for committing crime as poverty does. While transient neighbors, racial heterogeneity, broken families and other variables are popularly found in lower class neighborhoods with high crime rates, similar variables can be linked to increases in crime in both upper class and middle-class neighborhoods. Kelly’s (2000) work seeks to detach these variables in order to show that every variable can be associated with increases in crime and not just poverty. Nevertheless, poor, lower class neighborhoods might exhibit these variables more prevalently than any other neighborhood.

Economics and Crime Rates

Many researchers have in any case indirectly associated poverty and crime. It is widely perceived that poor people are more likely to commit a crime, at least a street crime, than the rich people are. Nevertheless, this is associated to property crime and not violent crime. In rural neighborhoods, where crime is less often, violent actions are of the same proportions and are frequently associated with socio-economic conditions. According to Fajnzylber, Lederman, & Loayza (2002), the poor have greater encouragement to steal in order to meet their means than the rich do. Consequently, they only choose violence when needed to achieve the crime such as in an armed robbery.

Borraz & González (2011) wrote about the social disorganization theory, where poverty is one of the three variables associated with rates of crime. This is particularly accurate of the theft and linked crimes. They found out that where the neighborhood had high prevalence of poverty, violent crime was extremely high. Kelly (2000) suggests that the exposure to crime and violence results in the predisposition to violence. Indeed, according to Dutta & Husain (2009), almost half of all homicide cases arise from interpersonal disagreement with another. However, there is still the subject of what proportion of such violent offenses is associated with poverty. According to positivist criminology, criminal incentives might be beyond the control of the criminal (Borraz & González, 2011). Possibly, poverty is a motivation for committing criminal activity, though there is some contradiction in associating economic factors with every crime. According to Raphael & Winter-Ebmer (2001), this might be because of the problem of accounting for multiple factors in research such as unemployment, divorce, neighborhood decay broken homes or other factors. According to many authors, persons from poor families and communities are most likely to rob, steal, sell drugs and make illicit gains. Nevertheless, it is helpful to have the results that distinguish violent crimes committed with a profit motive and those committed with non-profit motive.

Quetelet conducted one of the early studies on rates of crime and economic conditions (Gelsthorpe & Morris, 2002). His findings revealed that wealthy communities exhibit many property crimes. According to him, this is because there is more to steal. Alternatively, poor communities exhibit fewer rates of property crimes. This is because there is no equality in such communities. Every individual in such community is equally poor and there is nothing to steal. The lesson from Quetelet’s study is that if poverty motivates an individual to steal, then he or she is likely to go to rich communities to do it. In relation to unemployment, as a cause of crime, there is no convincing evidence pointing out that unemployment motivates an individual to commit crime. Nevertheless, on a macro-level, an elevation in unemployment rate is followed by an elevation in rates of crime. Research difficulties in this area frequently deals with various causes such as poverty, broken homes, divorce, poor housing, poor quality, residential mobility, racial and ethnic mix and population turnover.

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Socio-economic classes and strata in a society are a depiction of crime directly. There is no doubt that low-class living provides the conditions that result in increased rates of crime. If the success of an individual is measured by material possessions, status, and wealth, then the poor might see unlawful ways as the only way to acquire these possessions. This is perhaps because the lawful ways will not enable own a home or acquire education (Seiter & Kadela, 2003).

This is an association between rational choice and socio-economics. According to Fajnzylber, Lederman, & Loayza (2002), socio-economic factors can be classified into exhaustive degree, as Finklea, (2011) has done, though the outcome might simply imply that people make economic decisions based on rational decision-making. A person looks at his surrounding economically, and looks for economic benefit via illegal or legal ways. There might be fundamental social explanations, like poverty, though the person rationally thinks of committing a theft and analyses the possible risks and benefits as well. A wealthy individual makes a rational decision not to steal, though he also has no encouragement to steals. This is because his or her standard of living is sufficient.

Rational choice has also been criticized. Raphael & Winter-Ebmer (2001) argued that it is legitimate but weak. According to Raphael & Winter-Ebmer (2001), there are various factors and variable explaining the decision of an individual to commit a criminal activity. In addition, other social factors need to be considered, even if an individual makes a rational decision to commit a crime. Comprehending the behavior of the criminal requires an observer to view the big picture and understand the influences behind his or her criminal actions. Whereas the decision might be rational, the fundamental conditions of being poor would encourage many people to steal. If an individual is starving to death, it is very difficult to resist the urge steal in order to eat.

Between violence and poverty, it is not clear which one causes the other. Both violence and poverty go together (Borraz & González, 2011). For instance, a basic service worker might cancel his or her service in some neighborhoods since he is often assaulted and robbed. Consequently, even violent crimes are encouraged by the desire to steal property or money. A study of these same juvenile individuals indicates that they fear that they will never succeed materially through conventional ways. Some people have blamed the poor system of education in these societies, where it is apparent that none of the youth could secure jobs other than at fast food restaurants. In addition, good teachers might dare go to violent neighborhoods because of fear. Is poverty encouraging violence, or is it violence encouraging poverty? Possibly, the social structure and social support is absolutely gone to in those neighborhoods, leaving continuous social disorganization.

Finklea (2011) compiled various studies on rural criminology by linking socio-economic conditions and delinquency behavior. According to Finklea (2011), there is a positive association between the rates of crime and socio-economic variables and factors such as inequality, per capita income, rates of unemployment. Nevertheless, there is negative association between rates of crime and the proportion of population living below the poverty line. Most crimes take place when legal avenues for gainful employment are not available. Verdier & Zenou (2001) recommends that rural areas need to expand economic opportunities, like constructing industries instead of just focusing on agricultural activities.

Finklea (2011) also indirectly examines the association between crime and economic conditions. According to Finklea (2011), there is a relationship between crime rates and the welfare of recipients. Nevertheless, in those neighborhoods, there is higher prevalence of broken homes of single family. These neighborhoods might not have that social structure or social bonding, which would deter crime. Finklea (2011) also does not directly associate crime with poverty, though she associates poverty and social disorganization that is usually prevalent in very poor neighborhoods with high crime rates.

Another economic condition that might have elevated crime rates in the US was home foreclosures. The latest recession has been associated by the falling prices of homes and increases in mortgage crimes, which resulted in home foreclosures (Mehlum, Moene, & Torvik, 2005). As home prices declined for several years, homeowners across the US, found themselves owing more on their mortgages than the market values of their homes. This resulted in a fast increase in the crime rates on mortgage payments. Economic recession commenced around December 2007. The data at that time indicated that about 2.04 per cent of home loans were in foreclosures. At the end of recession, the percentage of home loans in foreclosures had risen to 4.30. This percentage continued rising after recession. The increase in home foreclosures had a significant impact on rates of crime in the US. The effect foreclosures on neighborhoods differ widely based on the characteristics of the neighborhood involved. According to Borraz & González (2011), in neighborhoods where there is high demand for residential, foreclosures might not have significant effect. On the other hand, in neighborhoods with very low demand for residential property, the impact of foreclosures on crime rates might be significant.

Social Development and Social Control

Social development model is not a theory for the illumination of crime. It is a complex, general solution for addressing elevating rates of crime. The concept held by the social development model is that risk factors need to be decreased (Gould, Weinberg, & Mustard, 2002). The quality of life of the community or neighborhood must be increased and the educations and educational opportunities must be improved. The community and family need to cooperate in building pro-social bonds with youthful adults and children. The community and family can achieve this by giving them positive influence. This is effective, especially if the family has the ways of supplying family members with material needs. If not, theft might be seen as the only opportunity to fulfill those needs.

According to Borraz & González (2011), interactional theory concurs with the social development theory in that criminal activities can be mapped out to the breakdown of social bonds. Interactional theory, similar to social development model, affirms that social disorganization and social class increases the risks of engaging in crime. Interactional theory also suggests that criminals will create bonds with other peers who have similar poor values system. This implies that criminals are bi-directional in hunting for the company of other criminals. This theory is fundamentally similar to other social constructs of deliquescent behaviors in the sense that individuals define crime in terms of the context of the world around them. The fact that crime derives from social interactions is reprehensible conduct.

Social control theory tackles the controls, which the society influences over the human behavior. Many people are willing to conform to the laws and norms of the society. Consequently, the behavior of many people is held in check by the social aspects like career goals, family, ethical standards, and community and school organizations. Finklea (2011) argued that the behavior of an individual could be regulated by social response such as punishment. Social regulations seem to disappear where social relationships and norms breakdown. Nevertheless, in order to be efficient in sustaining a desired behavior within the society, social bonds need to be between people who are submissive to the social norms, not with criminals. In relation to this theory, parents must remain close to their children, the society must sustain a very strong intentional control over the establishment of uniform norms for every member to adhere to, and the discipline by society and family must be certain.

Labeling or social reaction theory explains the reaction of the society to crime and the manner in which the labeled criminal responds to the new label. According to ROOO, labeling refers to a social construction that is based on what the society views as a crime. Labeling a person as delinquent will cause him to live up to that tag. The person reacts to the images others have tagged him, like thief, delinquent or troublemaker. Whether the criminal likes it or not, the society has provided him or her with a new identity. Criminals are most likely to adopt the new identity, internalize it, and live up to it. According Finklea (2011), the label of a criminal is stigma that produces low self-image, self-respect, and self-image. It results in secondary crime, where a person commits activities that are more criminal in order to keep their assigned criminal label. Pragmatic evidence points out those labeling influences the behavior of an offender. However, the possibility of a criminal to re-offend can be the result of the limitation put on the criminal’s life by having a conviction on his record. In order to correct labeling, a supportive or a positive approach can be used to de-emphasize the criminal element and stigma, such as calling convicts offenders. In this respect, labeling theory can be associated with the humanistic aspect of classic theory of criminology.

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According to Borraz & González (2011), crime is a weapon of the have-nots and the haves. Marxist referred to this power-differential as the instrumental view in which the rich impose their standards onto the poor. The Marxists model views crime as a depiction of class struggle. Poor neighborhoods are motivated to commit crime, whereas the rich are more eager to impose very harsh punishments on the poor. In this model, the economy considers economic structure and class as major causation of crime. The notion is that corporate wealth and capitalism for some individual cause economic disparity that elevates crime rates by weakening the social bonds. Possibly, this implies that in a socialist community, every individual would be in the same socio-economic status. As such, no conflicting group would engage in criminal activities. If this is true, it may pose a question concerning how the poor would change and enforce law if they were in power. Verdier & Zenou (2001) argues that neighborhoods and individuals are singled out for law enforcement action. The group in authority regulates and controls the other group via a greater enforcement efforts and stronger police presence. Crime rates elevate when a free society reverts to a socialist system.

According to Gould, Weinberg, & Mustard (2002), an offender involved in property or theft crime is significantly encouraged by greed and he or she acts based on the rational decision. Despite the offender not being very educated, he or she can analyze the possible risks and benefits of committing a crime. While recognizing that social disorganization and strain might be causation for committing crime, respective criminals still contemplate on what they are committing. In fact, they can distinguish between wrong and right doings. However, Fajnzylber, Lederman, & Loayza, (2002) do not strongly emphasize on social disorganization as a contributing factor, except in areas experiencing high rates of crime. According to them, city slums would the only exception because the entire community is a dilapidated neighborhood in which no individuals seem to care. Social disorganizations might not explain the irregular crime in an average community or neighborhood. Whatever the financial or societal pressures, some criminals might still consider the risks and benefits of committing a crime. On the other hand, the theory of greater punishments or deterrence theory might only prevent a law abiding and rational individual who is not likely to engage in crime. A typical criminal commits a crime, irrespective of the benefits of risks of engaging in such activities.

Social learning or modeling is most suitable in explaining juvenile criminals. If a juvenile sees a family member or a friend commit a crime, then he or she will usually finds it extremely easy to commit similar offense as a way of making money. Both juvenile thief and adult burglar are most likely to steal when he or she bonds with other like-minded criminals. Finklea (2011) does not view labeling as strong explanation for increased crime rates. This is because, according to her, an individual is more unlikely to engage in crime because the society has labeled him or her as deviant, ex-con or thief. In addition, an offender is simply living up to the reputation he or she has created for himself or herself.


People have a free will to engage in or avoid criminal behaviors. The rational choice theory draws from classical criminology in which people weigh the risks and benefits of engaging in crime. Physical and social environment influence the behavior of an individual. Urbanization is perceived as the major source of crime because the people who moved into the city were more than the number of jobs in the city. Large number of jobless individuals became a burden and resulted in the creation of social work organizations, which needed to supported them. An individual might learn something by watching others or television. If a person, especially a child, resides in a neighborhood with high crime rates, he or she is vulnerable to acting out similar behavior he or she witnesses daily. The broken windows theory also describes the socioeconomic influences on delinquency. The theory relates to social organization because it associates the decay in the neighborhood to an elevation in crime rates. Socio-economic classes and strata in a society are a depiction of crime directly. There is no doubt that low-class living provides the conditions that result in increased rates of crime. An offender involved in property or theft crime is significantly encouraged by greed and he or she acts based on the rational decision. Social learning or modeling is most suitable in explaining juvenile criminals. If a juvenile sees a family member or a friend commit a crime, then he or she will usually finds its extremely easy to commit similar offense as a way of making money.

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