Is Social Bond a Theory?


Jane Flores

Is Social Bond a Theory?

Social bond theory is a popular criminological theory that seeks to explain why individuals choose not to engage in delinquent or criminal behavior. Developed by Travis Hirschi in 1969, social bond theory has gained significant attention and has been widely studied and applied in the field of sociology.

The Basics of Social Bond Theory

Social bond theory suggests that individuals are less likely to engage in criminal activities when they have strong social bonds with institutions and people in their society. According to Hirschi, there are four elements that contribute to an individual’s social bond:

  • Attachment: This refers to an individual’s emotional connection and investment in their relationships with family, friends, and other significant individuals. People who have strong attachments are less likely to engage in criminal behavior because they fear jeopardizing these relationships.
  • Commitment: Commitment relates to an individual’s stake or investment in conventional activities such as education, career, or future goals.

    When individuals have a lot to lose by engaging in criminal behavior, they are more likely to conform to societal norms and laws.

  • Involvement: Involvement refers to an individual’s participation in legitimate activities such as work, school, sports, or hobbies. When individuals are actively engaged in these activities, they have less time and opportunity for delinquent behavior.
  • Belief: Belief encompasses an individual’s acceptance and adherence to societal values and norms. Individuals who strongly believe in the legitimacy of societal rules are less likely to engage in criminal activities.

Hirschi argued that when these four elements are strong, they create a “social bond” that acts as a deterrent against engaging in criminal behavior. Individuals with strong social bonds are more likely to conform to societal expectations, follow the law, and avoid delinquency.

Evidence and Criticisms

Over the years, social bond theory has received empirical support from various studies. Researchers have found that individuals with strong attachments to their families or positive relationships with peers are less likely to engage in criminal activities. Similarly, individuals who have commitments to education or career goals tend to have lower rates of criminal involvement.

However, social bond theory is not without its criticisms. Some argue that the theory overlooks structural factors such as poverty and inequality, which can influence an individual’s likelihood of engaging in crime. Additionally, the theory assumes that everyone has equal opportunities for attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief, which may not be the case for individuals from marginalized communities.


Social bond theory provides valuable insights into why individuals choose not to engage in criminal behavior. By understanding the importance of attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief in shaping an individual’s decision-making process, policymakers and practitioners can develop interventions and strategies aimed at strengthening social bonds and reducing crime rates.