Which Social Structure Theory Best Explains the Causes of Crime?


Jane Flores

When it comes to understanding the causes of crime, social structure theories have been at the forefront of criminological research. These theories attempt to explain why certain individuals and groups are more likely to engage in criminal activity than others. In this article, we will examine some of the most prominent social structure theories and determine which one best explains the causes of crime.

What are Social Structure Theories?

Social structure theories focus on how various factors such as poverty, lack of education, social inequality, and unemployment contribute to criminal behavior. These theories suggest that individuals who lack access to resources and opportunities are more likely to engage in criminal activities.

Strain Theory

One of the most well-known social structure theories is strain theory. This theory suggests that individuals who experience strain or stress due to their inability to achieve their goals through legitimate means are more likely to turn to crime. According to this theory, when people feel that they cannot achieve success through hard work and determination, they may resort to criminal activities as a means of achieving their goals.

Social Disorganization Theory

Another prominent social structure theory is social disorganization theory. This theory suggests that neighborhoods with high levels of poverty, unemployment, and other forms of social disorganization are more likely to experience high rates of crime. According to this theory, these neighborhoods lack the necessary resources and support systems needed for residents to thrive, which can lead some individuals to turn towards criminal activities.

Cultural Deviance Theory

Cultural deviance theory is another social structure theory that emphasizes how cultural norms and values can influence criminal behavior. This theory suggests that individuals who grow up in environments where criminal behavior is normalized or even encouraged may be more likely to engage in such activities themselves.

The Best Theory for Explaining Crime

While each of these social structure theories has its strengths and weaknesses, many scholars believe that strain theory is the best theory for explaining the causes of crime. This is because strain theory does an excellent job of explaining how individuals may turn to criminal activities when they are unable to achieve their goals through legitimate means. It also accounts for the fact that not all individuals who experience strain will turn to crime, as other factors such as individual resilience and coping strategies can mitigate the effects of stress.


In conclusion, social structure theories offer valuable insights into the causes of crime. While each theory has its own strengths and weaknesses, strain theory has emerged as the most comprehensive explanation for why some individuals and groups are more likely to engage in criminal activities than others. By understanding these theories, we can develop more effective strategies for preventing crime and promoting social justice in our communities.