Merton’s Strain Theory, which is generally found in sociology as well as criminology, states that society places certain pressures, known collectively, on individuals to achieve socially acceptable goals. Even though the American dream is possible, some individuals may turn to crime to fulfill their social expectations. Everybody strives to reach their goals. However, when society’s goals are not achievable for large numbers of people, criminal activity can be an alternative way of achieving those goals. In particular, the United States has issues with wage gaps and income inequality. This makes it difficult for many Americans to feel like their quality life is not as good as they imagine. The theory may be different, but all attempts to answer the question: Can society and its demands really cause ordinary citizens not to commit crimes. Should individuals be held responsible for all crimes or is society required to reconsider its standards and take some responsibility, especially during times of mass imprisonments and miscarriages.

Society should take some responsibility for criminal behavior. Because society’s societal constructs are what causes so many people to be unhappy with the quality and standard of life they have. These underprivileged people turn to crime in order to improve their lives and increase their chances of achieving the status they desire. People turn to crime for the opportunity to get rich quick. The lure of the promise of better lives and a chance to be rich is what drives them to participate in illegal activities such as larceny and drug trafficking. To temporarily solve a problem, an individual without income would have to commit a crime. As a result, they would face harsh punishments that would reflect the severity of the crime. Nicole Rafter’s textbook describes strain theory as a concept that explains how society forces ordinary Americans into committing crimes in order to fit the lifestyle of the wealthy. The ordinary citizen is subject to these pressures as they have to face hardships and difficulties in order to live a happy life. These ideals of living a meaningful, fulfilling life are reflected in society’s expectations. They can be summarized as the American dream: A large, picket-fenced home, two cars and a great career. The middle-class is where most Americans struggle to get in and are the easiest to leave. The reason is that the labor market has high levels of competition, there is very little job availability, and systemic discrimination is prevalent in all areas of socioeconomic related to minorities. This creates a barrier to success.

Means is an important aspect of strain theory. It refers to how someone can achieve culturally-oriented goals. A person’s ability to succeed within a socioeconomic system such as the one in the United States can be determined by their means. If they cannot, they may turn to crime to achieve the cultural standard that society has imposed upon them. The root cause of high levels of crime is often defined as a lack of opportunities.

Deviance is when someone lacks the means to achieve socioeconomic success. Gangs are an example of this. Even though the methods may vary, their purpose is to use criminality as a way to reach the same success. As they try to control illegal industries that include drugs, weapons, prostitution, tensions in competition can play. Deviant subcultures develop from group frustrations and a dysfunctional system. They then take advantage of that broken system to their advantage.

Robert Agnew’s strain theories are slightly different. They focus more on social norms, rather than cultural differences and other social variables. This may impact the development of criminal behaviour. This theory focuses less on infrastructure issues, e.g. education, health etc. The most important thing is to improve your emotional and personal well-being. Jie Zhang’s is also an option.

The Suicide Strain Theory emphasizes more psychological suicides. This theory was established through examination of suicide letters from China and the United States. Individuals are affected by these strains until they believe that there is no other option but to commit suicide.

According to me, there is clear evidence that society is indeed responsible for criminal behavior among citizens who feel there is no alternative to getting to the top. While crime may lead to different destinations, it is the most dangerous route, and can have serious consequences for those who choose to take short-term pleasure. While I agree that society should bear some responsibility, the perpetrator must also be held accountable. They still have the freedom to avoid committing the crime, no mater how serious the situation. While society can shape an individual depending on their situation, level, and opportunity, ultimately the responsibility lies with the individual.


  • rowandavid

    I am a 32-year-old educational blogger and student. I love to share my knowledge and experiences with others through writing. I believe that knowledge is power, and I am passionate about helping others learn and grow.