It is a common myth that a major negative aspect of a society can be logically linked to another prevalent aspect that has a negative connotation. One such example is that poverty is a major cause of crime (Hollin 1992.) This being that although poverty may be a factor in crime, it is not as significant as others. In this essay the sustained argument is that poverty does contribute but so do other factors and to more of an extent. Within the paper two other reasons for crime occurring to a greater degree are examined. Initially however poverty is examined and reasons for this being seen as such an influential factor in crime are given. Predominantly to quash the assumption of poverty being the lone cause of crime, the antipode is explored: greed in corporate crime. Thirdly the quasi-taboo factor of the family and peers in childhood being the breeding ground for juvenile summary offences that grow into indictable crimes is questioned. It is concluded that the inference that poverty being a major cause of crime is in fact erroneous and in assuming this, the tactics of crime prevention are being misused both in resource efficiency and resource allocation.

Poverty being defined in the Penguin Dictionary (2002) as a lack of sufficient money or material possessions for a life of moderate comfort is seen as social bad (Felson 1998) which Felson argues is often mistakenly linked to other evils in society. Thus if it is assumed that poverty is a linked social bad to crime, a syllogism is formed, being that prosperity would be a means to a fall in crime rates. This theory however is found incorrect by Felson, arguing why then did Sweden’s crime rates increase greatly, despite the fact that the prosperous Swedish government bought in more and more programmes to enhance equity and protect the poor. Thus in this circumstance it was the factor of prosperity which increased the crime rate and could be linked, not so logically to the social bad of crime.

However Poverty does appear to play a major role, but not a solitary one when it comes to suicide. Lester and Yang display Emile Durkheim’s consideration that financial crises lead to an immediate rise in the suicide rate (Lester and Yang 1997.) Despite this Durkheim concludes poverty protects against suicide because it, in itself, is a restraint. Consequently financial crises do not increase the suicide rate because of the increased poverty but rather because they disturb the collective order. Therefore it can be said that this lack of sufficient money (Penguin 2002) did contribute to the rise in suicide rate slightly, but it was primarily the disruption in collective order that influenced additions in suicide rate. Thus Poverty is not a major cause of crime.

Another example of how poverty is initially seen as the major social bad connected with crime but later can be transitioned into another is given by Leonard. It is argued, many people believe poverty is a significant cause of crime (Leonard 1982), yet in any area stricken with poverty at least half the population is female, and their crime rate is typically low. As a result Leonard argues if poverty were the considerable cause of crime this discrepancy would not exist. Consequently in this circumstance the factor that influences this trend is gender, not poverty. Therefore poverty is not a major cause of crime.

The second major aspect that will be explored is the trends in white-collar crime and how this is an example of how poverty is not a major cause of crime. John Walker gives the total cost of fraud, forgery and false pretences in the 1995 symposium of crime as being between $6710 million and $13 770 million (Walker 1992). This in cost to society is seen a major cause of crime. Also white-collar crime is not just confined to the perpetrator’s initial crime scene, for example the workplace. Criminals involved in serial fraud will not confine their activities to one city, state, or even one country (Palmer 1995.) Additionally as in other indictable crimes computer technologies will greatly enhance the ability to successfully commit a white-collar crime such as fraud (Smith 1999.) The main reason being behind these crimes is that within capitalism, emphasis is on the individual. Predominantly this circumstance highlights that people do things a normal “moral” individual would not contemplate (Jackall 1988.) One then understands the only way an individual would commit these convenient crimes, in numerous locations through their own corporate position is to harness greed for the overall “corporate good” (Moore 2003.) Consequently greed and nepotism are major sources of crime, poverty is not in this example.

The final social bad that will be discussed in this essay is the thought that the family’s actions along with influential peers at a young age can be predictors of future criminals. These actions by the family include poor parental supervision, harsh parental discipline, parental disharmony and rejection of the child are seen as important signs that lead towards criminality in children (Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber 1986.) In addition to the circumstance of larger families has held an association with delinquent behaviour. It is seen that there are a number of variables, which must be taken into account such as income, family composition and parental criminality (Fischer 1984.) This inturn is seen to have a “contagion” affect on the siblings, being that one delinquent sibling will influence another more impressionable sibling to criminality (Hollin 1992.) Therefore even if the socio-economic context of a family is a variable in the contagion theory, the idea of poverty in combination with the family’s domestic influence creates a criminal. Ergo, without the one another (poverty and contagion) this example of crime would not exist, thus they are equal contributers. Neither is more significant than the other.

The final factor is the impact of peers. It is understood that young teenagers are susceptible to malevolent influences particularly through their own peer group and their family, as noted previously. Peers do have an influence, but only in certain circumstances (Agnew 1991.) With situations where minor crimes are committed the strength of the influence is limited, but with delinquents who commit a “serious offence… the peer group exerts its strongest pull.” Since all criminals were once children or still are, Agnew sees this as a dominating factor in criminality. Hence poverty maybe the factor behind some crimes, but the major poverty alone does not cause crime.

Poverty does contribute to crime rates as seen for example in some suicide cases by Durkheim. However there is many other factors which give a larger foundation to criminality, a small amount of which have been referred to in this essay. These being greed in positions of power, the given family context and the impact of peers. Consequently the myth that poverty is a major cause of crime is incorrect as it is clear there are other factors that go unobserved as more significant reasons for crime. These need to be addressed before crime can be adequately prevented.


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Smith R. (1999) Defrauding Governments in the Twenty-first Century. Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, no.111, pp 1-6. In Crime and Justice readings, Reading no.9 (2004). Griffith University.

Walker J. (1992) Estimates of the cost of crime in Australia. In Palmer M. (1995) Crime in Australia, The first national outlook symposium: White Collar Crime,, accessed 21st of March, last updated June 6th 1995.