Why Lower status groups have higher crime rates?

According to some sociologists, lower status groups have higher crime rates because they do not have access to legitimate means of achieving. This view is supported by sociologists such as Cohen, Cloward and Ohlin who believe members of the lower classes commit crime because they are not given the same opportunities to achieve as other members of society. However, this view could be disputed, as it is by sociologists such as Miller and Murray who believe other factors are involved such as the focal concerns.
This essay will assess the extent to which lower status groups commit crime because they are denied access to the legitimate means of achieving success. According to Cohen, lower class boys have the same success goals as the rest of society but have no opportunity to enjoy these goals. He believes that the lack of opportunity here is because of their educational failure and then their dead-end jobs. This could be supported by Willis’ ethnographic study on a number of ‘lads’ at school.
This study showed that these boys had come to terms with the fact they were going to be stuck in dead end jobs as they did not achieve anything at school and therefore formed anti-school subcultures to deal with this. According to Cohen this amounts in status frustration as the individuals become frustrated that they cannot achieve anything and with their low status in society. Due to this, they turn their attentions to achieving through other means – crime, they reject the success goals of common culture and replace them with others as Merton described in his responses to cultural goals.

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This new found calling can help them to gain status and recognition, especially from their peers, albeit for the wrong reasons and thus a delinquent subculture is formed. It can be seen as a collective solution for all the problems faced by the lower classes. Cohen believes that “the delinquent subculture takes its norms from the larger culture but turns them upside down. ” Thus, the subcultures are a negative reaction to a society that has denied opportunity some of its members.
This would suggest that the members of lower status groups deviate because they are denied access to the normal routes of success and shows that because of this there is greater pressure on certain groups in society to deviate. Cloward and Ohlin follow the same path as Cohen, however they develop his ideas. According to them Cohen failed to look at the illegitimate opportunity structure. They believe that lower status groups are denied access to the legitimate means of achieving success; however an illegitimate route is available to them.
This opportunity could come from the fact that in some areas there may be a high rate of adult crime and this means that there is access for adolescence to follow the same path; however in other areas this culture may not be present. According to Cloward and Ohlin areas with a high rate of organised adult crime creates a learning environment for younger generations, meaning the common norms and values in these areas are different from those who apply themselves to the legitimate opportunity structure and a criminal subculture is created.
Conflict subcultures are created in areas where there is little opportunity for adolescence to achieve through the illegitimate opportunity structures. This means that there is no access to either legitimate or illegitimate opportunity structure. According to Cloward and Ohlin the response to this situation is usually gang violence as a means of reaching built up tension and frustration towards the lack of opportunity. Retreatist subcultures are also created by those who have failed to have access to illegitimate or legitimate opportunity structures, thus they retreat from society and enter a retreatist subculture.
Thus, all of these subcultures are created because these people do not have access to the normal means of achieving success. Other sociologists however, believe that it is not the opportunity for success but other factors that influence lower class crime rates. Miller, who studied lower class subcultures in 1950s America, discovered that the subcultures were not formed because of the inability to achieve success, but because of the existence of distinctive lower class subcultures. According to Miller there are a number of long held cultural traditions followed and these differ to those of the higher strata.
He believed that these traditions passed down from generation to generation actively encouraged lower class men to break the law. Miller believes that there are a number of focal concerns of the lower class. These focal concerns are toughness that involves trying to prove their masculinity; smartness, which involves trying to outsmart each other and excitement which involves having ‘fun’ which could involve alcohol, drugs, gambling and joy riding. According to Miller argues that delinquency is just the members of the lower strata acting out the focal concerns, if in a slightly exaggerated way!
He believes that it has a lot to do with boredom of work and these focal concerns help them to live with the day-to-day boredom. Thus, the crime rates of the lower class are not because of the opportunities available to them but because of they have their own norms, values and traditions that are carried through from generation to generation. Murray also believes that it is not due to opportunity but believes in an under-class who are a group of either unemployed or unemployable people.
He believes that this underclass share there own common norms and values and reject those of mainstream society. He believes that the welfare states are to blame as it means that people do not feel the need to work and can live of the state and reject the idea it is important to hold down a job, thus they turn to criminality. This means that he does not agree that crimes are committed because of the lack of opportunity, but more because of the opportunity to be given money from the state and not have to do anything.
Stephen Jones also agrees that there us an underclass, but believes there are also number of side issues such as racial tension and gang warfare that helps to add to the crimes. This view could be supported by crimes in Britain such as the shootings of Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis in 2003. Overall, it can be said that there are a number of reasons as to why crime rates are high in the lower class. It could be because they are denied access to legitimate means of achieving success as they need to fine some way to succeed.
However, it could also be due to the fact that learning environments are created and traditions are passed though the generations making it common and normal in the lower classes for crimes to be committed and normal for aspects such as racial tension to be a big part of life. Therefore, there it could be said that it is not just because of there is a lack of opportunity for members of the lower class, but because they already have there own norms and values of which t follow.

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