Economic Causes of Crime

Economic Causes of Crime

Environmental and Social Theories of Crime: Economic Causes

Introduction to Economic Causes of Crime

Studies concerning the influence of economic factors on criminal behavior have attempted to link economic deprivation to increased motivation to commit crimes (especially property crimes). Such studies assume that when economic conditions worsen more people experience deprivation and turn to crime to reduce that deprivation. These same theories have been used to explain why people of lower socioeconomic status are disproportionately represented among known criminals.

Other studies attempt to relate the disproportionate involvement of poor people in crime to the distribution of power in society. The assumption in these studies is that criminal law is a tool used by the social group with higher economic status to advance its class interests. These theories assert that criminal law is fashioned according to the needs of this elite, and to the detriment of classes with lower status.

Studies of the relationship between unemployment and crime have yielded conflicting results. Some studies indicate a negative relationship between unemployment and crime-that is, when unemployment decreases, crime increases, or vice versa. Other studies indicate a positive relationship (when one increases, so does the other), and others find no relationship.

In certain macrosocial theories (theories that focus on whole social systems rather than individual people), criminologists link crime rates to the development of surplus labor (greater numbers of available workers than jobs) in the capitalist economic system. Those who follow the teachings of German political philosopher Karl Marx (known as Marxists) believe that capitalist societies generate surplus labor as a means of limiting the demands of workers for higher wages and other benefits. During periods of economic expansion, fewer people are punished for criminal activity. This reduces the amount of people in jail and increases the size of surplus labor in the economy. On the other hand, during periods of economic decline, more people are put in jail, which prevents too much surplus labor from posing a threat to the social and economic order. ” (1)


Notes and References

Guide to Economic Causes of Crime

In this Section

Criminology, Criminology Development (including Classical Criminology, Modern Criminology, Criminology Italian School and Independent Criminology), Criminology Goals, Biological Theories of Crime (including Crime Genetic Factors and Neurological Abnormalities), Psychological Theories of Crime (including Moral Development Theories, Social Learning Theories and Personality Theories), Environmental and Social Theories of Crime (including Social Causes, Social-Structural Theories, Subcultural Theories and Economic Causes of Crime) and

Criminal Opportunity.