General strain theory

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General strain theory (GST) is a theory of criminology developed by Robert Agnew.[1][2][3] General strain theory has gained a significant amount of academic attention since being developed in 1992.[4] Robert Agnew's general strain theory is considered to be a solid theory, has accumulated a significant amount of empirical evidence, and has also expanded its primary scope by offering explanations of phenomena outside of criminal behavior.[5]

Agnew recognized that strain theory originally put forward by Robert King Merton was limited in terms of fully conceptualizing the range of possible sources of strain in society, especially among youth. According to Merton, innovation occurs when society emphasizes socially desirable and approved goals but at the same time provides inadequate opportunity to achieve these goals with the legitimate institutionalized means. In other words those members of society, who find themselves in a position of financial strain yet wish to achieve material success, resort to crime in order to achieve socially desirable goals. Agnew supports this assumption but he also believes dealing with youth there are other factors that incite criminal behaviour. He suggests that negative experiences can lead to stress not only that are financially induced.

Agnew described 4 characteristics of strains that are most likely to lead to crime: 1) strains are seen as unjust, 2) strains are seen as high in magnitude, 3) strains are associated with low social control, and 4) strains create some pressure or incentive to engage in criminal coping.[6]

Agnew's 3 categories of strains[edit]

The inability to achieve positively valued goals

The removal of, or threat to remove, positively valued stimuli

To present a threat to one with noxious or negatively valued stimuli

In an attempt to explain the high rate of male delinquency as compared to female delinquency, Agnew and Broidy analyzed the gender differences between the perception of strain and the responses to strain.[7] The first area that was explored was the amount of strain that each gender experiences. According to stress research that Agnew and Broidy complied, females tend to experience as much or more strain than males. Also, females tend to be higher in subjective strain as well. Since females experience more strain and commit less crime, Agnew and Broidy investigated the different types of strain that males and females experience. Their findings are listed below:

Females Males
Concerned with creating and maintaining close bonds and relationships with others – thus lower rates of property and violent crime Concerned with material success – thus higher rates of property and violent crime
Face negative treatment, such as discrimination, high demands from family, and restricted behavior Face more conflict with peers and are likely to be the victims of crime
Failure to achieve goals may lead to self-destructive behavior Failure to achieve goals may lead to property and violent crime

Source: O Grady[8]

Agnew and Broidy next hypothesized that there may be differences not only in the types of strain, but in the emotional response to strain as well:

Female Male
More likely to respond with depression and anger More likely to respond with anger
Anger is accompanied by fear, guilt, and shame Anger is followed by moral outrage
More likely to blame themselves and worry about the effects of their anger Quick to blame others and are less concerned about hurting others
Depression and guilt may lead to self-destructive behaviors Moral outrage may led to property and violent crime

Source: O Grady[9]

Research indicated that females might lack the confidence and the self-esteem that may be conducive to committing crime and employ escape and avoidance methods to relieve the strain. Females may, however, have stronger relational ties that might help to reduce strain. Males are said to be lower in social control, and they socialize in large groups. Females, on the other hand, form close social bonds in small groups. Therefore, males are more likely to respond to strain with crime.[10]


  1. ^ Broidy, L. M. (2001). "A Test of General Strain Theory*". Criminology. 39: 9–36. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2001.tb00915.x.
  2. ^ Paternoster, R.; Mazerolle, P. (1994). "General Strain Theory and Delinquency: A Replication and Extension". Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. 31 (3): 235–263. doi:10.1177/0022427894031003001.
  3. ^ Aseltine, R. H.; Gore, S.; Gordon, J. (2000). "Life Stress, Anger and Anxiety, and Delinquency: An Empirical Test of General Strain Theory". Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 41 (3): 256–275. doi:10.2307/2676320. PMID 11011504.
  4. ^ Moon, Byongook; Hays, Kraig (Winter 2017). "General strain theory, key strains, and deviance" (PDF). Journal of Criminal Justice. 40: 117–127 – via Database.
  5. ^ Froggio, G (2007). "Strain and Juvenile Delinquency: A Critical Review of Agnew's General Strain Theory". Journal of Loss & Trauma. 12 (4): 383–418. doi:10.1080/15325020701249363.
  6. ^ Agnew, R (2001) Building on the Foundation of General Strain Theory: Specifying the Types of Strain Most Likely to Lead to Crime and Delinquency. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency Volume:38 Issue:4 Dated:November 2001 Pages:319 to 361.
  7. ^ O Grady, Willam (2007). Crime in Canadian Context: Debates and Controversies. Oxford University Press. pp. 106–109.
  8. ^ O Grady, William (2007). Crime in Canadian Context: Debates and Controversies. Oxford. p. 107.
  9. ^ O Grady, William (2007). Crime in Canadian Context: Debates and Controversies. Oxford. p. 107.
  10. ^ O Grady, Willam (2007). Crime in Canadian Context: Debates and Controversies. Oxford University Press. pp. 108–109.