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Theories that explain the occurrence of crime in society have been developed to shed light on the increasing cases of criminal behavior. In particular, theories are used to show why criminal rates differ in terms of gender, race and age. Furthermore, theories are critical when it comes to understanding the role of social institutions in curbing the vice, as well as conformity. Criminological theories claim to explain the origin and causes of crime even though few have the capability of doing so.
Upon this realization, this paper attempts to compare the validity and effectiveness of two theories that is, General Strain and Self-control theories. The paper tries to explain whether the two theories would effectively explain crime in relation to gender, age and racial/ethnic variations. The main aim of the paper is to explain why the records show that men commit more crimes as opposed to women. Furthermore, records show that criminal behaviors differ by age meaning that age is a major variable when it comes to understanding crime in society.
Young people in their earlier 20s are prone to criminal activities as opposed to any other category of age group. Finally, the theories would be compared as regards race. It is established that race affects crime rates (Sampson, & Laub, 1993).
The paper will specifically examine the occurrence of robbery in society in relation to race, age and gender. The arrests and self-reports from reliable sources reveal that robbery is on the increase owing to economic and social changes. This paper applies the two theories in explaining the incident in various localities.
Through the analysis of the two theories, it is established that many variations exist. Data gathered from arrest records are usually official statistics gathered by the law enforcement agencies, which are the police officers. Self-reported data on the other hand are gathered through surveys and confessions from criminals. From the analysis of the two theories, minute differences exist between data gathered through arrests and self-reported data. However, the theories explain the occurrence of the crime differently. This is the focus of this paper.
Theories of Crime
Agnew generated the theory in 1992 following an extensive study. According to Agnew, crime is the outcome of the difficulties that an individual faces in daily life. In case the rate at which individual strains to achieve socio-economic needs increases, the possibility that such an individual would commit a crime is high. This is because an individual would resort to unscrupulous means of achieving social needs such as food, clothing and survival.
This would entail robbery and violence, which are the two types of crime that are closely related but are to be charged differently in a court of law. In 1990, Gottfredson and Hirschi came up with a different theory known as Self Control theory to explain the occurrence of crime in society, which was in the increase.
According to the two scholars, crime is a result of a lack of self-discipline on the side of the delinquent. When an individual lacks discipline, he or she does not have coping techniques that would prevent him or her from committing a crime, such as robbery. The individual would be led by personal, selfish interests to harm other members of society to achieve his or her interests.
Explanation of Robbery based on General Strain Theory
As per the reasoning of Agnew, the theory represents a set of ideas that would be utilized to explain the rising cases of robbery in society. As earlier stated, it stems from the difficulties experienced by an individual in society. An individual lacks the basic needs, which forces him or her to commit robbery. Indeed, necessity has been used in the court of law as a defense against an accusation. Poor individuals, who have no capacity to provide basic needs to their families, frequently commit robbery.
The theory focuses much on the impacts of socio-economic difficulties in shaping an individual’s life in society. The theory was formulated from the classic strain theory, which had some weaknesses, such as it treating a criminal separately from the cause of the crime. Due to modernity, the theory claims that too much pressure is placed on an individual, especially the heads of the households, which forces them to stretch their hands to provide basic needs to their loved ones.
In this case, an individual engages in a nonconformist behavior as opposed to conformist action (Chesney-Lind, & Shelden, 1998). Because of the limited options and alternatives, individuals fail to come up with other means through which they can provide basic needs to their families. In most cases, individuals would not achieve their goals, including money, status and material goods mainly because of the capitalistic nature of life.
According to the architects of the theory, people strain in their day-to-day lives. Some individuals succeed in proving the basic needs to their families through legal means while others are unable hence resorting to illegal means, such as robbery. However, an individual’s coping tactics, character, emotions, and environment determine how he or she would solve the problems.
The theorists identify education as one of the factors that would help an individual cope with a particular difficulty (Mason, & Windle, 2002). Education imparts positive skills to an individual, which would help him or her to cope with the challenges of life.
Robbery results from a lack of sufficient coping skills from individuals. In case an individual copes well, robbery would not be part of his or her alternative as far as fulfilling basic needs is concerned. As a consequence, the theory identifies, employment, exercise, appropriate leisure, and talking like some of the ways through which an individual would cope well with stress that leads to robbery in society.
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It is true that an individual would come up with strategies based on his or her aspiration, as well as capacity to attain certain goals. Furthermore, coping skills and availability of social support schemes would help an individual cope with the social strain. For this reason, the theory identifies social relationships as one of the factors that help an individual to re-evaluate his or her actions.
In this case, an individual would first assess the extent to which he or she is integrated into society before committing robbery. Those who integrate well are able to cope with stress because they help from close relatives and friends. Konty (2005) claims that a lack of strong social bonds would lead to criminal behavior such as robbery.
Regarding personality peculiarity, Agnew observed that an individual character would facilitate or hinder the individual from engaging in criminal activities such as robbery. In case the difficulty of an individual encounter in life, such traits are reconfigured, making individual display emotions for instance anger and frustration, which would further lead an individual to commit a crime, such as robbery.
However, the scholar commented that an individual could control such emotions, even though some struggle to manage their reactions. The ability of an individual to manage hunger and frustration, which are the two major causes of robbery, is always determined by factors such as disposition, aptitude, interpersonal abilities, immoral peers, conservative societal support, and self-esteem.
Moreover, emotions play an important part in crime explanation. Negative feelings such as desolation, terror, and rage may be caused by external sources. In society, people tend to blame others in case they find themselves in problems. Such individuals would always argue that their relatives, friends or members of the public are to blame for the negative behaviors.
Anger has a negative effect to the life of an individual because it can make him or her to revenge something that he or she is not aware. In this case, it makes an individual to engage in behavior that is unacceptable in society, meaning that it makes an individual to be impulsive in his or her actions. In other words, anger encourages an individual to justify his or her bad behavior, which might be a crime. The theorist noted that anger would make an individual to neglect the costs associated to robbery.
Again, anger may reenergize a criminal to act. In case an individual is exposed to many problems, he or she would tend to develop a delinquent behavior that would be dangerous to his or her life because he or she would resort to robbery as a coping mechanism. The theorist attempted to postulate that the more the problems that would strain the individual in society, the more an individual becomes angry, which automatically lead to crime (Tittle, Ward, & Grasmick, 2003).
The theorist observed that when an individual mingles with people of low self-esteem, he or she is likely to engage in negative actions such as robbery. The individual might be advised to solve his or her problems whenever faced with a particular issue in society by robbing other members of society.
The peer groups influence the individual because an individual is shown new techniques of committing robbery. The peers rationalize their behaviors, attitudes and motives, which encourages other peers to engage in the same behavior. The peers tend to adopt the behaviors of their cohorts, such as reasoning and viewpoints in life. As a result, an individual is pushed into criminal activities in case he or she is faced with many problems, especially when his or her friends are criminals.
Individuals are left with no option but to engage in crime because their friends do the same. Agnew and Broidy (1997) argued that adolescence is related to robbery because of the strain faced by the youths at the critical stage of life. During adolescence, youths transform from childhood to adulthood.
They are supposed to abandon some responsibilities and adopt some, depending on the societal expectations. In most societies, the adolescents are supposed to behave in certain ways, by acquiring certain goods and services. This might be a burden to the youth, which forces them to engage in crime in order to fulfill societal expectations. Since time in memorial, wealth has always been found in the hands of the few capitalists, who happen to be the old in society.
Youths are usually treated unfairly and are exposed to traumatic state of affairs. Unlike children and the adults, the adolescents believe that the environment around them is unfavorable. In this sense, self-ruling and meditative discernment could amplify the level of stress. When this happens, the youths find themselves in between the hard place and the rock.
If not guided, they turn out to be delinquents, leading to crime actions such as robbery. It is concluded in this section that adolescents are likely to respond negatively to hardships since they do not have efficient coping skills. Hoffman and Cerbone (1999) concluded in their study that youths respond to stressful events with anger, dissatisfaction, depreciation, disquiet and uneasiness.
As the supporters of this theory would argue, three types of strain affect people’s socialization and conduct in society. One of the stains includes the inability to attain positively treasured objectives in society. Another one is the loss of positive stimuli and the last one is related to the presence of destructive stimuli.
Each type is claimed to increase an individual’s chances of engaging in criminal behavior. Failure to attain positively treasured objectives leads to serious stress for particular people. It is argued that members of society would frequently strain to achieve three main goals, including money, which is the main cause of strain in case it is not achieved through legal means. Another important goal is related to an individual’s position in society. The theory claims that men value this aspect and they would be willing to do anything to achieve it, including robbing a bank or another member of society.
The last goal treasured by members of society is sovereignty. It lack affects the behavior of adolescents since they always engage in conflicts with their parents to attain power. In the process of achieving power and sovereignty, an individual may find him or herself committing criminal activities such as robbery.
Loss of positively treasured stimuli is another type of strain that was discussed extensively by Agnew in 1992. It can be caused by a broken relationship or a loss of important business. In the process of protecting an endangered project or relationship, an individual may engage in a criminal act such as robbery to protect face. It is therefore identified that an individual may find him or herself engaging in criminal behavior in order to punish those who might have contributed to the breakage of a valued relationship or business project.
Presentation of destructive stimuli is the last type of strain, whereby a delinquent tries to portray the features that he or she might have gone through during childhood. Hoffman and Miller (1999) observed that negative events in life, for instance joblessness among parents, death of one parent and serious diseases would affect the socialization of children, which would change their behavior patterns when they grow up. Children who had difficulties in their growth and development may perhaps turn out to be criminals when they mature (Shelden, 2006).
Explanation of Robbery using Self Control Theory
Unlike the reasoning of Agnew on the Strain theory, Self Control theory argues that there should not be special requirements for a crime to happen in society, such as incentives or needs. Criminal acts such as robbery are caused by lack of self-control among individuals in society. In this case, self-control would help an individual manage his or her deviant behaviors such as robbery.
As per the reasoning of the scholars holding social-control theory, such as Farringtone (2003), criminal acts such as robbery are caused by an individual’s desire to acquire material goods, money, social position, enthusiasm and sexual contentment. In other words, scholars holding this view claim that low self-worth does not imply that an individual would execute a crime.
On the other hand, an individual who would commit a crime such as robbery to fulfill his or her interest would be doing so mainly because he or she does not have self-control. It is true that individuals with low esteem have difficulties in appreciating the quality of life. In this case, they would rarely accept their criminal actions. To a criminal, the proceeds obtained from crime are pleasurable. Such pleasures are direct, palpable and immediate as compared to the costs associated with crime, which are not direct (Wright, & Cullen, 2004).
According to Gottfredson and Hirschi, several elements of self-control exist. Criminal actions offer immediate satisfaction of wants and wishes. Those with low self-control in society tend to react to their immediate surroundings while focusing on the here and now. In society, there are those members who tend to postpone their gratification. Those are people with high self-control. For criminals, they provide an immediate satisfaction to their desires and wishes.
In other words, they tend to offer money, sex and vengeance right away. In this regard, such individuals would not wait for the right time to fulfill their goals and objectives in life. Scholars found out through research that criminal activities could perhaps be exhilarating and very dangerous. Such activities would involve risk, rapidity, agility and dishonesty. Those who are used to illegal techniques of acquiring wealth tend to be adventuresome and are physical, even though their counterparts tend to be careful and vocal. Criminal activities would only provide short-term solutions to problems affecting an individual.
In this case, self-control theorists challenge the view that necessity would be used as defense against an accusation in the court of law. Due to criminal activities, self-control theorists believe that long-term obligations such as matrimony, employment and family ties are interfered with. In other words, a criminal would be interested in his or her own selfish interest, not the interests of other members of society.
General Strain theorists, who claim that people engage in crimes such as robbery to uplift the living standards of other members of society, oppose this view. Criminals fear thinking because their actions demand for little planning and expertise. Due to this fact, those with low self-esteem would eventually engage in crime because they fear other professions that demand serious planning and expertise.
Finally, criminal actions are not destined to any success but instead those engaging in crime are bound to fail at the end. Those engaging in crime are indifferent to the suffering and the demands of other members of society. They are only interested in fulfilling their goals.
Theorists holding this view observe that individuals who are fond of using shortcuts to achieve their interests find other means of satisfying themselves. This would mean that they participate in harmful activities such as consuming too much alcohol, smoking, abusing drugs, betting and engaging in illicit sex. In this case, people with low self-control are reckless, immoral, unresponsive and short sighted. Such qualities permit an individual to engage in bad actions such as robbing.
Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) noted that low self-control starts at childhood through personality traits. For instance, a child could be unable to postpone gratification, unable to endure frustration and might tend to possess a high-risk behavior. All these are features of low self-control in children, which would manifest to delinquent behavior in future commitments. The scholars suggest that children adopt low self-control mainly because of insufficient child-caring techniques. Furthermore, the behaviors of parents tend to affect the humanization of children in society.
It can be concluded that the two theories offer deep explanation of crime occurrence in society. They both argue that crime is a result of poor child rearing and hard socio-economic conditions in society. However, the theorists differ over a number of issues. First is that they do not agree over the cause of robbery. General strain theorists argue that people engage in bad behaviors because of the problems affecting them at the family level.
On the other hand, Self Control theorists believe that people engage in robbery and other forms of crimes to satisfy their wishes and desires. Again, General strain theorists believe that criminals usually have long-term goals while Self Control theorists think that the lives of criminals are short-lived. This differences are however minor and cannot be used to differentiate the two theories amicably. Furthermore, the tow theories can be combined to explain the rising the cases of crimes in society since they have various similarities.
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