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Social Differences in Criminal Behavior: Theories and Models

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Social class and crime behavior relationship is a long-standing basis of discussion in criminology. The society has this perception that crimes are to be committed mostly by a lower class group of people in the society, forgetting the fact that even the upper and middle-class people commit serious crimes too. These social classes are a result of emerging divisions in the society which are supported by the social and economic background of the people. As opposed to the social norm on crime, criminal behavior revolves around social classes such as; upper, middle, lower, working, and also underclass. This occurs as an attempt to classify the social groups according to their ability to have access to social, economic, political, or cultural resources, given that their differences are connected in a significant manner. Croall, n.d, tries to explain the reasons as to why most people from a specific social class are more likely to engage in criminal activities as compared to those from other classes and why the type of the crimes committed are different. Great philosophers such as Murray, Marx, and Becker came up with physiological ideas to try and explain this concept exclusively by the use of theories and models that shows the existence of social differences in criminal behavior. Marxists seek to explain crime from a different dimension, whereby he defines it as a natural 'outgrowth' existing in a system that he refers to as a civilized capitalist. Another philosopher, Charles Murray, uses another technic in explaining the same concept by arguing that crimes originate in lower-class society level, where he terms as 'the underclass'. Lastly, Becker explains his argument through a labeling theory that associates crime with interactionism.

Conventional Marxist Methodology to Crime

Under Marxist ideas, social classes influence criminal behavior in several ways, ranging from criminal justice systems to the discrimination of the lower class people by the working-class group. He disputes that the capitalist economic system itself should be blamed for causing crimes. The system mostly bases on taking advantage of the working class, steering the ever-growing wealth of one class while increasing the poverty levels of the other class.

It is for these reasons that you won't get surprised to note that most people in the society who cannot afford the basic needs are the ones more likely to turn to petty crimes to compensate for what their employers can't fulfill. It is also to be noted that the exploited class will often try to express their anger of being used through criminal damage. Marxist goes on to bring out the concept of this capitalist society gets so much wealth and money regardless of whether its effect might harm other people in the community or not. This brings about the crime of the rich as opposed to the poor.

Chambliss (1976) supports Marxist theory by claiming that most of the laws in the United States (and the UK) protects the property and their owners. He further stated that these members in the ruling divisions were part of organizations that could give bribes to the authority by the influence of their wealth, especially the politicians and also business owners, to evade justice. Marxist studies, compared to Snider’s (1993), resolved that the laws made were not enforced in any way; instead, they were in favor of the working class while oppressing the exploited class.

In conclusion, Marxist arguments go hand in hand with Murray's ideas, therefore, quickly explaining the concept.

Charles Murray’s Underclass Theory of Crime

Also known as the Right realist, Charles Murray tries to use another dimension to illustrate how the class difference in criminal behavior comes about. Murray twisted the term ‘the underclass’ to mean a group of persons in America who were completely unemployed and entirely depended on the government for their welfare. In 1980s Murray disputed that the first group of the underclass was getting kids who were socialized into the subsequent generation with an idea of worklessness which eventually ended up creating a problem for the US citizens because this class seemed to have been cut off from healthy social life and were not guided by regular norms like other ordinary people.

Only two decades just after Murray warned about the dangers of the looming underclass group, studies indicate that this effect has finally appeared in form NEETS. It further states that between the age of 16 to 24, they add up to 1.1m and are accountable for an economic and social drag to the current society. A present study done by the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) indicates that the Neet abandoning school at the age of 16 will likely cost the government an average of £97,000 in their lifetime, with the worst cases requiring up to £300,000.

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Their influence on antisocial behavior, crime, and public health was remarkable that the research found out that just a single group of about 157,000 of the age between 16 to 18 old Neet was to cost the government an entire £15 billion before they face premature deaths at around 2060. The study also says that this cohort is 22 times prone to make teenage mothers, 50% liable to experience poor health, 60% with chances of getting involved with drugs, and 20% with higher of turning out to be criminals.

In conclusion, Charles Murray's technic associates more the poor with criminal activities than the rich. This is because they are the same group of people in the society who can barely afford basic needs on their own without government intervention.

Becker’s Labelling Theory

Quoted as an interactionist, Becker is another great philosopher who came up with the labeling theory that also tries to uncover the relationship between social classes and criminal behavior. Howard Becker (1963), in his vital statement on labeling, stated that: “Deviancy is not the quality of the act a person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by other rules and sanctions to an offender. Deviant behavior is a behavior that people so label'.

In his quotation, Becker implies that deviant is not really about what is done; rather, it is all about how other people respond to whatever that is done. He explains that the only thing that makes deviant activities to be ordinary is that they are cited as 'deviant' by other people (see Thompson, 2016). Our self-concept, according to Becker, is how we people see ourselves. As a result, we can easily be labeled deviant, and this can lead to aberrant effects, given that the label is likely to become our master status. In this scenario, a person can quickly turn into a career criminal.

Becker’s theory was clearly illustrated during the London’s Riot in 2011, whereby a few commentators noted that the London mayor at that time (Boris Johnson) with the prime minister at that period (David Cameron) found themselves to be part of the “delinquent gang” at the Bullingdon Club University. Even though these students ended up being accused of illegal behavior, their behavior was never subjected to the same punishment and social control as it would have done, had they been found to be the poor people demonstrating and rioting more than the rich.

From this theory, Becker applies the term 'labeled' to disclose the fact that they are some crimes that are or have been committed by the rich people in the society but still end up being not accounted for. This, therefore, makes the oppressed people in society to be labeled criminals. This is as a result of their minimal power and their inability to influence and adequately defend themselves against such claims (see Macfarlane, 2017).

In conclusion, it is evident that through the use of Murray, Marxist, and Becker's philological theories and approaches, social class co-exist in criminal behavior. This has been shown in Marxist’s theory where the justice systems only favor the upper and the working class while oppressing the lower exploited class, and also discrimination of the poor lower class by the rich. Murray also explains the same concept through his idea of the “underclass” to bring about a group of people who were utterly unemployed and entirely depended on the state government for their welfare and survival. He further states how this idea of being jobless is easily carried to the next generation, thus becoming a huge challenge to the government. Becker also uncovers this concept through his labeling theory, where he explains that the only thing that makes deviant common is to be label 'deviant' by other people. He goes a step further to disclose that there are some crimes which are committed by the rich in the society with no measures being taken against them as it would on the poor people under the same circumstance. This is because the poor have no power to influence and claim their innocence to get the justice they deserve.

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Social Differences in Criminal Behavior: Theories and Models. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
“Social Differences in Criminal Behavior: Theories and Models.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
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Social Differences in Criminal Behavior: Theories and Models [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2023 Dec 8]. Available from:
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