It's no secret that poverty and crime go hand in hand. But what exactly is the relationship between the two? What factors make people living in poverty more likely to commit crimes?
Poverty and crime have long been linked by both popular opinion and academic research. Various theories exist that attempt to explain this link, including social disorganization theory, strain theory, differential association theory, control theory, and relative deprivation theory.
Studies show a strong correlation between poverty, unemployment, and criminal activity. Areas of concentrated poverty are often hotbeds for different types of crime, such as property theft and violence. Without basic necessities like food, clean water, and education, it can be difficult to stay out of trouble.
- Social disorganization theory (developed by the Chicago School) suggests that people in poorer neighborhoods have fewer resources to modify their behavior (such as educational opportunities or access to good jobs). Additionally, the disadvantaged may be more susceptible to peer pressure and less able to resist criminal opportunities.
- Strain Theory (by Robert K. Merton, 47th President of the American Sociological Association) suggests that poverty can create conditions of deprivation that lead individuals to commit crimes as a way of financial gain or personal gain. When societies fail to provide citizens with basic needs like food and shelter, people may resort to “survival crimes” such as theft or other financial crimes in order to survive.
- Differential Association Theory (by Edwin Sutherland, elected President of the American Sociological Society) states that poverty leads individuals into environments in which they are constantly exposed to criminal ideas. This can lead them into situations where they learn how to commit criminal behavior from their peers who are likely engaged in illegal activities themselves.
- Self-Control Theory (by Michael R. Gottfredson, former President of the University of Oregon) proposes that economic hardship deprives individuals of the ability to postpone gratification–which is essential for self-control. Without self-control, individuals are more likely to engage in illegal behaviors due fulfill immediate needs.
- Relative Deprivation Theory (by Ted Gurr, a professor of political science) argues that the level of poverty within a given society can lead members of certain social groups to perceive their situation as worse than the perceived situation of others –making them more likely to engage in criminal activity out of frustration or anger toward those who seem successful or well-off compared them.
Poverty can lead to crime in many ways, from unstable home environments to psychiatric disorders. A lack of resources forces families into desperate situations where they must resort to illegal activities just to survive. By understanding how poverty contributes to crime we can help create solutions for those affected.
Crime is often seen as an inevitable consequence of inequality and poverty. Indeed, those with fewer financial resources and less access to education have been linked with poorer health outcomes, higher unemployment, and other negative indicators that could lead to criminality behaviors.
While it seems logical that poverty cause crimes, poverty might not be a cause of crime. Even with many theories, as with many hypotheses, correlation might not show causation too.
- Poverty is like a prison. It limits opportunities, resources, and options for people to improve their lives, trapping them in an endless cycle of crime.
- Crime is like a trap door. People living in poverty can easily get caught up in criminal behavior and be sucked into a life of crime they can’t escape from.
Crime is a debatable indicator as it depends on the efforts of the police or government in enforcing crimes.
- Rich countries also have crime, just different types of crime. Criminals in rich countries will focus on higher-value crimes like fraud or embezzlement. Even children of rich parents will commit petty crimes like shoplifting.
- There is no crime without law and a region that enforces law strictly might end up with more crime than a country with loosely enforced laws.
Through examining current research on poverty-induced crime, there are also interesting comparisons of income inequality (instead of poverty) with crimes (similar to the relative deprivation theory).
The gap between rich and poor is growing, and with it comes a problem that affects all of us: crime. But what is the connection between income inequality and crime?
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