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Deviance: Theories, Factors And Functions

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Deviance is any behaviour or activities that violate social expectations about what is the norm (Germov & Poole, 2011, p.511). Deviance refers to the norm breaking behaviour which has the capability to surround an individual with negative stigma. Over the last decade, public attention has grown due to the substantial increase in females being imprisoned in Australia. Statistics show there has been a 75% increase in women’s rates of incarceration totalling for 8% of the total prison population (Hislop et al., 2020). Family violence, substance abuse and homelessness show relevant trends as to why the number of women in prison is increasing dramatically (‘When mum goes to prison’, 2020). Evidence provides that the increasing number of women incarcerated are victims of domestic violence, 70 to 90% of women have been physically, emotionally or sexually abused at some point during their life (Hislop et al., 2020). 60% of women in prison are mothers and 80% are Aborginal women both which face key factors such as homelessness, violence and abuse which are linked to women’s increase in incarnation.

The number of female prisoners in Australia is increasing at a higher rate than males referring to the Australian Bureau of statistics (ABS). Single parent families are statistically proven to be the fastest growing family type in Australia, reported that since June 2011, 630 thousand single parent families consist of a majority of 84 percent single mother families (‘6224.0.55.001 – Labour Force, Australia: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families, Jun 2011’, 2020). In Australia, data has shown that the rates of females in prison has risen by more than 40 per cent over the last 12 months (‘Kids’ Health – Topics – Single parent families’, 2020). The absence of a father figure role in the house is the most important cause of true crime along with increased poverty-ridden families. Data provides that single parent families have a poverty rate of 45.8 percent, over four times the rate of traditional families. Single mothers on average, have a lower level of education which commonly leads to high poverty risks (Härkönen, 2017). Mothers without a reasonable level of education are more likely to struggle providing a substantial income which can lead to deviant behavior such as violence, robbery and drug activity. Families with abandoned fathers have consequences in deviant criminal behaviour which affects mothers. In a traditional family, a husband provides emotional and physical support during particular periods of a woman’s life. Mothers without this support are emotionally more distant, causing damage to their personal well being which is expressed by deviant behavior.

Aborginal women play a dominant role within the Aborginal society, in Australia imprisonment rates for Aborginal women are increasing rapidly. The increase in incarceration consists overall of 77% women, statistically proving that Aborginal women account for the majority of the growth at an alarming rate of 34% (‘Imprisonment rates of Indigenous women a national shame | Australian Human Rights Commission’, 2020). The high use of alcohol and substance abuse, unemployment rates, decreasing rates in education, child abuse and homelessness amount for a high rate of inprisonment towards Aborignal women and each factor is independently detrimental towards deviant behaviour (Jens Korff, 2020). Aborginal women in Australia are severely disadvantaged in society consisting of a shorter life expectancy and poorer health. Aborginal women have an extreme rate of violence in their communities due to illicit drug use, mental health issues and childhood trauma (‘Australians Together | Indigenous disadvantage in Australia’, 2020). The culture upbringing of Aborginal families worked to keep their children safe and to contribute to family and community life. The underlying effects of a disadvantaged upbringing from a young age result in child neglect and abuse from poor parenting and inadequate housing. Involvement in serious crime increases the rates of imprisonment which further reduce the chance of employment but increases the use of drug and alcohol abuse which causes a cycle of hopelessness from one generation of Aborginal women to the next (‘Chapter 5 – Parliament of Australia’, 2020).

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Majority of women who have been incarcerated previously, are highly likely to reoffend depending on their criminal history. Recidivism is the result in which a criminal is rearrested with a new sentence within a three year period after the individual’s release (‘Recidivism’, 2020). Recent cross-state estimates of recidivism suggest that 58% of incarcerated women are rearrested, 38% are reconvicted, and 30% are returned to prison in the three years following release from prison (Deschenes et al., 2007). Cultural Transmission theory helps explain as to why multiple criminals relapse into their previous deviant behavior after being released. Previous criminals tend to fall into old habits and rejoin their social networks of deviant associates. After being released from prison, resocialization becomes a difficult process for an individual requiring to learn norms, values and beliefs. Aborginal women are raised within a traditional cultural homelife which majority are surrounded by violent and deviant behaviour. Women released back into familiar environments are influenced by deviant family and friends to partake in deviant behaviour if implemented back into daily lifestyle as the norm.

The functionalist perspective theory also known as Structural-Strain Theory was developed by American sociologist Robert K. Merton (1938-1968), introduced by Emile Durkheim (1893-1969). This theory explains deviance as an outcome of social strains that place pressure on individuals to deviate, simplified to express that “poverty breeds crime”. Low socioeconomic individuals that are placed in a disadvantaged category within their social structure supposes that certain pressure leads to specific kinds of deviant behaviour. Structural-Strain theory suggests that societies are developed from two main aspects which include culture and social structure. Values, beliefs, goals and identities are derived from within a culture which are developed in response to the existing social structure of society. Durkeim suggests that cultural diversity creates confusion over norms leaving individuals without clear moral guidelines. Deviant behaviour is the outcome of an imbalance in the social structure where social norms are weak, absent or conflicting. In relation to single mothers, pressure derived from lack of income or lack of education creates higher rates of crime. Statistics provided that in june 2012, there were 223 thousand jobeless one parent families which single mothers accounted for 89% (‘6224.0.55.001 – Labour Force, Australia: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families, Jun 2012’, 2020). Single mothers that were placed in the poverty threshold due to lack of unemployment and low education were unable to achieve certain goals through legal means, forcing individuals down a path of criminal behaviour to reach these goals. Structural-Strain theory is unable to provide an adequate explanation as to why middle class and upper class individuals commit crime as they are not affected by any of the given factors. It also ignores the impacts that social groups and subcultures have on behaviour and why only various subcultures engage in crime where others do not.

Cultural Transmission Theory developed by Edwin Sutherland (1939) explains deviance as a behaviour that is learned in the same way as conformity through the interaction with various individuals. Cultural Transmission Theory draws perspective of symbolic interactionism and applies them to the process of socialization into deviance. This theory suggests that crime rates increase in particularly lower class neighborhoods suggesting that deviance may have developed within local cultures transmitting over time from one generation to another. Just like conformity, individuals will deviate if their socialization encourages a contempt for these norms, stating that one may be influenced by deviant friends or family members rather than deviant acquaintances. Majority of Aborginal women are born and raised within a violent and abusive community, many are sexually assaulted and introduced to theft and substance abuse at an early age. Due to childhood trauma, dysfunctional behaviour occurs causing the individual to develop by associating crime and violence as their norm. Deviant behaviour in lower class can be evolved by accepting the values and beliefs within their own subculture, although criminal activity, drug use or theft can result in a negative sanction with the consequence of incarceration. Although this theory shows limitations by failing to explain why individuals become deviant despite their deviant association, individuals raised within a high crime neighborhood do not always become criminals and Individuals who become deviant have little to no contact with any deviants.

Therefore, it is stated that whether any of the four theories could account for certain deviant behaviours such as substance abuse, gamebling, theft and fraud however each of these theories display how deviant behavior occurs as the result of social processes. Deviance attribute to socially disapproved violations of important norms, it displays a relative matter as it determines who is deviant according to social standards. Deviance is observed through various functions which clarifies norms, enhances solidarity and identifies problems but also has multiple dysfunctions such as violating trust, confuses norms and diverts resources. By applying certain theories to specific deviant behavioural situations can help understand the process of thought and how certain influences are attributed towards the scenario.

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Deviance: Theories, Factors And Functions. (2021, September 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from
“Deviance: Theories, Factors And Functions.” Edubirdie, 20 Sept. 2021,
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