Strain Theories

Robert Agnew and Heather Scheuerman

in Criminology

ISBN: 9780195396607
Published online April 2011 | | DOI:
Strain Theories

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Justice
  • Criminology



Strain theories state that certain strains or stressors increase the likelihood of crime. These strains lead to negative emotions, such as frustration and anger. These emotions create pressure for corrective action, and crime is one possible response. Crime may be used to reduce or escape from strain, seek revenge against the source of strain or related targets, or alleviate negative emotions. For example, individuals experiencing chronic unemployment may engage in theft or drug selling to obtain money, seek revenge against the person who fired them, or take illicit drugs in an effort to feel better. The major versions of strain theory describe 1) the particular strains most likely to lead to crime, 2) why strains increase crime, and 3) the factors that lead a person to or dissuade a person from responding to strains with crime. All strain theories acknowledge that only a minority of strained individuals turn to crime. Emile Durkheim developed the first modern strain theory of crime and deviance, but Merton’s classic strain theory and its offshoots came to dominate criminology during the middle part of the 20th century. Classic strain theory focuses on that type of strain involving the inability to achieve monetary success or the somewhat broader goal of middle-class status. Classic strain theory fell into decline during the 1970s and 1980s, partly because research appeared to challenge it. There were several attempts to revise strain theory, most arguing that crime may result from the inability to achieve a range of goals—not just monetary success or middle-class status. Robert Agnew developed his general strain theory (GST) in 1992, and it has since become the leading version of strain theory and one of the major theories of crime. GST focuses on a broad range of strains, including the inability to achieve a variety of goals, the loss of valued possessions, and negative treatment by others. GST has been applied to a range of topics, including the explanation of gender, race/ethnicity, age, community, and societal differences in crime rates. It has also been applied to many types of crime and deviance, including corporate crime, police deviance, bullying, suicide, terrorism, and eating disorders. Much evidence suggests that the strains identified by GST increase the likelihood of crime, although the predictions of GST about the types of people most likely to respond to these strains with crime have received less support.

Article.  12461 words. 

Subjects: Criminology and Criminal Justice ; Criminal Justice ; Criminology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »