Strain Theories


I. Introduction

II. Types of Strain Most Conducive to Crime

A. Inability to Achieve Monetary Success

B. Other Strains Conducive to Crime

C. Research on Strains and Crime

III. Why Strains Increase the Likelihood of Crime

IV. Factors That Increase the Likelihood of Criminal Coping

V. Explaining Groups Differences in Crime

VI. Recommendations for Controlling Crime

VII. Reducing the Exposure of Individuals to Strains That Are Conducive to Crime

VIII. Reducing the Likelihood That Individuals Will Respond to Strains with Crime

IX. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Strain theories state that certain strains or stressors increase the likelihood of crime.

These strains involve

  • the inability to achieve one’s goals (e.g., monetary or status goals),
  • the loss of positive stimuli (e.g., the death of a friend, the loss of valued possessions),
  • or the presentation of negative stimuli (e.g., verbal and physical abuse).

Individuals who experience these strains become upset, and they may turn to crime in an effort to cope. Crime may be a way to reduce or escape from strains. For example, individuals may steal the money they want or run away from the parents who abuse them. Crime may be used to seek revenge against the source of strain or related targets. For example, individuals may assault the peers who harass them. Crime also may be used to alleviate negative emotions; for example, individuals may engage in illicit drug use in an effort to make themselves feel better. Strain theories are among the dominant explanations of crime, and, as discussed in this research paper, certain strain theories have had a major impact on efforts to control crime.

Strain TheoriesThis research paper describes

  • (a) the types of strain most conducive to crime,
  • (b) why strains increase the likelihood of crime,
  • and (c) the factors that increase the likelihood that individuals will cope with strains through crime.

All strain theories acknowledge that most individuals cope with strains in a legal manner. For example, most individuals cope with monetary problems by doing such things as cutting back on expenses, borrowing money, or working extra hours. It is therefore critical to explain why some individuals engage in criminal coping. After presenting a basic overview of strain theories, this research paper describes how strain theories have been used to explain group differences, such as gender differences, in crime. The research paper concludes with a discussion of the policy implications of strain theories.