What Is Social Problems Theory?


Jane Flores

Social Problems Theory is a sociological perspective that explains the causes and consequences of social issues. It focuses on how social problems such as poverty, crime, and inequality arise from the structure of society. This theory seeks to understand the underlying reasons for these issues and proposes solutions to address them.

Understanding Social Problems Theory

At its core, Social Problems Theory posits that societal factors create and perpetuate social issues. These factors can include economic inequality, political power imbalances, discrimination based on race or gender, and cultural norms that limit opportunities for certain groups of people.

Social Problems Theory suggests that social problems are not just individual issues but are instead rooted in larger societal structures. For example, poverty is not only caused by individual choices but also by systemic factors such as lack of access to education and employment opportunities.

The Four Key Assumptions of Social Problems Theory

To fully understand Social Problems Theory, it’s important to know its four key assumptions:

  • Social problems are socially constructed: Social problems are not objective realities but are instead created through societal definitions. What one society considers a problem may be seen as acceptable or even desirable in another.
  • Social problems arise from structural conditions: Social problems are not solely the result of individual behavior but rather stem from larger societal structures such as economic systems, cultural norms, and political power imbalances.
  • Social problems have consequences: Social problems have real-world consequences for individuals and society as a whole. These consequences can include decreased quality of life, increased crime rates, and reduced economic growth.
  • Social problems can be solved: While social problems may be deeply ingrained in societal structures, they can still be addressed through collective action and policy change.

The Role of Social Problems Theory in Society

Social Problems Theory is important because it provides a framework for understanding the root causes of social issues. By identifying the structural conditions that give rise to social problems, this theory offers insights into how these issues can be addressed.

Furthermore, Social Problems Theory encourages collective action and policy change to address social problems. By recognizing that social problems are not just individual issues but are instead rooted in societal structures, this theory emphasizes that solutions must come from changes at the societal level.


In summary, Social Problems Theory is a key perspective within sociology that explains how societal structures give rise to social issues. By recognizing the four key assumptions of this theory, we can better understand the root causes of social problems and work towards solutions that address them.