Relationship Between Poverty and Crime from an Economic and Sociological Perspectives

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Table of contents

  1. Poverty and crime from an economic perspective
  2. Poverty and crime from a sociological perspective
  3. Comparisons between the two perspectives
  4. Final conclusions

This essay is going to discuss as well as compare and contrast the relationship between poverty and crime from both an economic perspective as well as a sociological perspective. There are several different types of poverty. Four of the main types are those of; monetary, capability, social exclusion and participatory approaches (Laderchi, Saith & Stewart. 2003). When looking at the link between poverty and crime from an economic perspective, there tends to be a focus on the concept of a lack in monetary resources, focusing on unemployment or income inequality. When examining the relationship between poverty and crime from a sociological perspective however, there is a focus on the idea of disorganisation within communities and/or families and the concept of social exclusion and whether these factors influence the rate of participation in crime. Both of the disciplinary perspectives have their own views and explanations on the relationship between poverty and crime, some may be similar in ways, while others are different. Due to the complicated relationship between poverty and crime, numerous theories are proposed attempting to explain this relationship and although many do seem to show a positive correlation between poverty and crime (Hipp,& Yates,2011)., the others need to still be analysed and taken into consideration.

Poverty and crime from an economic perspective

Since the 1980’s many studies, mostly theoretical, have been published looking at the relationship between poverty, income inequality, violent crimes and property crimes. As of this point, there is a growing agreement around the fact that forms of resource deprivation are one

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of the main causes of violent crime (Land, McCall & Cohen,1990). Increased income inequality has also been linked to greater debt, and poorer health. In the economic theory of crime as discussed by Kelly in their article “Inequality and crime” from the year 2000, areas that have high inequality put poorer individuals within proximity to high-income individuals who have goods that seem worth taking. Another theory argues that, when individuals are faced with the relative success of others around them, those who are unsuccessful become frustrated with their situation. The bigger the inequality, the higher the strain and therefore the greater the incentive for the lower status individuals to commit a crime.

Accounts suggest that more unequal outcomes lead people to perceive and think that they need more resources in order to be satisfied (Payne, Brown-Iannuzzi & Hannay, 2017). The Higher the perceived needs, the more individuals are to take risks to meet those needs. This might be done through committing certain crimes such as property theft or muggings. Other studies discuss the rational model of criminal behaviour (Becker 1968). In this model, a criminal chooses to commit criminal behaviour when the potential criminal gains are greater than what they would gain from legitimate work. As the inequality rises, those who are at the bottom of the income distribution might be left with very little legitimate earnings potential but a larger potential to gain through criminal acts. This then leads to the committing of criminal offences.

Chiu & Madden do offer a theoretical explanation for the relationship between income inequality and property crimes, such as burglary, in their 1998 article “Burglary and income inequality”. Their work shows that an increase in income inequality leads to an increase in the number of burglaries that occur. This increase in burglaries may be particularly seen more in rich neighbourhoods based on the idea that the more the more the income gap widens, rich households become more attractive for lower-income individuals or groups.

Overall, the results from studies on income inequality and crime can vary, depending on the geographical level of observation. Studies who use only country- or state-level data often find a positive relationship between inequality and property crime. However, those who use smaller scale data at a county or city level turn up mixed results (Metz & Burdina, 2018). As a whole however there does seem to be a fair link between income/economic inequality and crime.

Poverty and crime from a sociological perspective

The role of social disadvantage in crime causation is one of the most discussed and analysed topics amongst academics looking at crime causation. There is a lot of debate surrounding the strength and nature of the relationship between social disadvantage and crime. Although when thinking about poverty, often the concept of lack in resources (particularly income) comes to mind first, social disadvantage is considered to be a form of poverty because it ties into the definition of poverty being relative deprivation. Social exclusion is concerning the process of exclusion from participation in regular social activities (Levitas, 1996). As discussed by Wikström, & Treiber in their article “Social disadvantage and crime: A criminological puzzle, 2016”: Families and groups can be considered to be living in poverty when their resources and opportunities are so low below those experienced by the average individual. This in effect means they are excluded from ordinary living patterns, activities and customs.

One example of social exclusion is that of social disorganisation amongst communities. The theory of social disorganisation focuses on the relationship between a neighbourhood’s structure, social control within the neighbourhood, and crime (Kubrin & Weitzer,2003). The level of communities organisation is measured through weather it has; local friendship net- works, Control of teenage peer groups and organizational participation (Sampson & Groves, 1989). The theory of social disorganisation did receive a fair bit of criticism at one point in time however has since seen a resurgence of interest in recent years (Kawachi, Kennedy & Wilkinson,1999).

Crime studies have been able to produce considerable evidence towards the fact that social disorganisation is positively associated with crime particularly in urban areas. As summarised well by Kaylen & Pridemore in their article “New Directions in Social Disorganization Theory”: “low socio-economic status (SES) is hypothesized to be associated with higher crime rates through a lack of formal and informal controls and decreased youth supervision from community organizations.”

Comparisons between the two perspectives

Although both perspectives have their own explanations for the relationship between crime and poverty, one of the most obvious differences is that each focus on a different type of poverty. Explanations from a sociological perspective focus on a lack of experiences or capabilities for individuals or groups within the community whereas explanations from an economical perspective have a focus on the idea of a lacking in resources such as income. One thing the perspective’s explanations have in common is that they both look at the effects of the lack in resources (whether that be monetary resources like as the case with the economics perspective or social capabilities and opportunities) on individuals and groups. Both perspectives look at the effects of inequalities whether they be social inequalities or economic inequalities. Both perspectives consider that without these resources or capabilities, individuals find more of an incentive to commit crime.

Final conclusions

When looking at the relationship between poverty and crime from an economic perspective, there is a large focus on the lack of monetary resources due to income inequalities. When looking at poverty and crime from a sociological perspective there is more of a focus on a lack in experiences and opportunities. Both disciplinaries perspectives provide well-constructed explanations for the relationship between crime and poverty. Each perspective takes into consideration the different types of poverty and this influences their theorised explanations differently. The economic perspective does give a good argument in terms of its argument that when individuals feel they are lacking in what others have, they might carry out criminal behaviour to feel satisfied and as if they are equal to those whom are not lacking. Overall, both perspectives offer strong, well developed explanations for the relationship between crime and poverty.

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Relationship Between Poverty and Crime from an Economic and Sociological Perspectives. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
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