Strain Theory and Juvenile Delinquency


The best way for someone to become the best policymaker or criminal justice personal, they need to fully understand the criminal theory because it is the base level to all-of their success. Policy makers use the theoretical understanding to create new policies or find different ways to fix current crime problems in the world, but at the same time find out what is the cause of the crime problem in the first place. Criminal Justice personal use the criminological theories to address the reason behind the crime instead of just throwing everyone in jail just because they were at the scene of the crime.

There are a total of four theoretical aspects that any criminal theory must possess to be considered a true crime: correlation, theoretical rationale, the missing of spuriousness, and time sequence (Akers & Sellers,2013). The correlation theory deals with the theoretical cause of the crime, which means the what could of caused the crime.

The theoretical rationale theory explains the reasons of why the crime even occurred.

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The missing of spuriousness means it rules out any other reason of the crime and focuses on the real reason of the crime. Finally, time sequence shows that the theoretical cause of the crime always precedes to the crime. There are several major challenges for criminal justice personal, but one of the most challenging once's are the juvenile gangs. With this being said, the Strain Theory is the best theoretical explanation of the problem involving juvenile gangs.

Strain Theory explains that crime is the result of the strain places on individuals who are not able to achieve middle class norms through legitimate means.

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Because they cannot meet those expectations through legitimate reasons they instead turn to illegitimate means (Akers & Sellers, 2013). In this essay I will compare and contrast how the Strain Theory has an effect on the juvenile gang's epidemic. Strain Theory The very first sociologist to use Strain Theory on criminal uses in the United States was Robert Merton. Robert Merton's theory states that strain occurs when there is a separation between the cultural goals and the means of obtaining them (Akers & Sellers, 2013). Cultural goals and means are tied to the middle class norms which lower classes cannot achieve.

In Robert Merton's article he identified five adaptations of people who are not able to achieve the goals by legitimate means. The five adaptations are conformity, innovation, rebellion, retreatism, and ritualism. Conformity means the person has accepted that they do not meet the societal goals but continues to live with the limited opportunity's that are presented to them. People who are in the Innovation phase use illegitimate behavior to achieve societal goals. The rebellion phase reject any and all societal goals and try to strive for a new set of goals that they set for themselves. Retreatism just means they don't want to achieve the societal goals period. Those in the ritualism phase simply have given up on the goals completely, but continue with the legitimate means (Merton,1938) Robert Merton would address the problem with juvenile gangs by looking at why they are formed for. Example is those who join juvenile gangs just to achieve monetary success. Merton would say they have adapted to strain by innovation. Juvenile gangs come together to commit burglaries, robberies, and even selling or producing drugs. If the juveniles joined together for the use of drugs or alcohol, Robert Merton would say they adapted to strain by retreatism.

Albert Cohen was the next theorist to study Strain Theory. Albert Cohen disagreed with Robert Merton by saying strain is not the ability to achieve material success, but is the strain in the ability to gain status and acceptance (Akers & Seller, 2013). Albert Cohen studied the standards the middle class imposed on those in the lower socio-economic class and how it leads to status deprivation. Cohen believed the rising of juvenile gangs was the result of this status deprivation. The boys who became part of the gangs tended to move toward standards that were opposite of those of the middle class (Akers & Sellers, 2013). The actions taken by the juvenile gangs were crimes committed not to achieve monetary status, but all the graffiti crime was a way to gain respect and status among their other gang members. As years went on more theorist started to modify Strain Theory. Theorist such as Cloward and Ohlin modified strain theory in a big way.

They modified strain theory by incorporating aspects of social disorganization and different association. These theorist stated that even when legitimate means were not available it does not mean illegitimate means were available (Akers & Sellers, 2013). Crime is highly dependent on the availability of illegitimate reasons, this also means it comes down to location. Ohlin and Cloward agree with Albert Cohen's hypothesis, but soon realized that there were more than one delinquent subculture that juveniles could fall into. There are a few but I will only talk about three. The first subculture a delinquent could fall into is and organize gang to bring in income. The delinquents commit offenses in which are in line with Robert Merton's innovation adaption (Akers & Sellers, 2013)

The second type of subculture delinquents can fall into is conflict subculture. These gangs act as fight groups, the juveniles that fall into this subculture lack legitimate means of success, but also illegitimate means as well. This also means that the juveniles do not have the role models that the criminal subculture has and this leads them to think that adults are weak. They want to achieve status by acts of violence and bravado. The third subculture is identified by Ohlin and Cloward as the retreatist subculture. The juveniles that fall into this subculture have given up on the legitimate means and the illegitimate goals and means, and instead retreat to the world of drugs and alcohol. These are your delinquents that are not good at fighting or committing crimes. They gain status by the strength of their drug addiction (Akers & Sellers, 2013).

As years went on Strain Theory was once again modified by theorist Walter Miller. Walter Miller thought that juvenile delinquency was an adaption to lower class culture. Walter Miller found that juveniles simply exaggerated the values of the lower class adults. These values consist of trouble, toughness, smartness, excitement, fatalism, and autonomy (Akers & Sellers, 2013). Miller thought in a juveniles mind if they demonstrated lower class adult values they would gain status in delinquent gangs. In the 1980's Strain Theory saw resurgence. With the resurgence in 1980, this allowed for two new versions of strain theory to be found. The two new strain theory's that were found were Institutional Anomic theory and General Strain Theory. Theorist Messner and Rosenfeld took apart Merton's culture assumptions and put them into four new orientations. The four orientations are achievement, individualism, universalism, and the fetishism of money (Akers & Sellers, 2013).

The achievement consist of what the American society places on a persons worth in the world just by what they have achieved so far. Individualism put people in a race to see who would reach the achievement orientation first. Universalism means everyone in society wants to achieve the same goals as the rest of the society even though the people at the lower class cannot achieve the goals. Fetishism of money refers to the values of money itself, its not the value of the money its what can be purchased with it. The imbalance of all these orientations have resulted in criminal activity as the byproduct of American society.

General Strain Theory was looked at by another theorist by the name Agnew. Agnew would look at individual crime instead of the macro-level that Messer and Rosenfeld studied. Agnew would looked at juveniles as an adaptation to stress and then identified three types of strain that created deviance (Agnew, 1985). The first one is failure to achieve positive goals. The Second strain is removal of positively stimuli, this includes a delinquent losing a friend, moving schools, change in the family lifestyle such as parents getting a divorce. The final strain is the confrontation with negative stimuli (Akers & Sellers, 2013).

Similarities of Social Learning Theory

Social Learning Theory has held one of the best criminological theories. When tested against different theories Social Learning Theory usually shows more proof than any other theory. The main point of this theory is to show the probability of whether or not a delinquent will start in on deviant behavior by the definitions held by the individual, and the influences faced at any given moment (Burgess & Akers, 1966). Akers defined four main concepts in this theory, differential association, definitions, imitation, and differential reinforcement. Definitions explains how ones attitude or beliefs can affect someone's behavior and outlook. Imitation explains how someone will react after seeing someone else interact in that certain behavior. Differential association defines how the greatest affect on behavior comes from the early stages of life and have a loner duration in that individuals life.

Updated: Feb 22, 2021
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Strain Theory and Juvenile Delinquency. (2019, Aug 20). Retrieved from

Strain Theory and Juvenile Delinquency essay
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