Monetary Strain and Individual Offending Research Paper

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Monetary strain theories, including anomie and general strain perspectives, outline that individuals who are unable to reach monetary goals utilizing legal channels, or who are experiencing negative economic circumstances, will be more likely to engage in a range of illegal activities. The probability of an illegal response is strengthened when individuals perceive their opportunities to achieve the monetary goal to be blocked, attribute the cause of their failure to external sources, and feel deprived relative to the others with whom they compare themselves. The failure to reach the monetary goal, or the negative economic experience, in these situations leads to-frustration, dissatisfaction, and anger. These negative emotions supply the incentive for individuals to utilize numerous illegal avenues that focus on financial gain to facilitate the realization of monetary goals or address negative economic circumstances. Individuals experiencing monetary strain may also strike out at others in response to their feelings of failure and frustration or they may use drugs and alcohol in an attempt cope with the negative emotions generated by the strain. Illegal reactions in response to monetary strain are also more likely when individuals associate with peers who also experience monetary strain and utilize deviant means to cope with the strain. Further, individuals who have adopted values that support the use of illegal means to cope with strain and who lack conventional social support and social control are more likely to respond to monetary strain with crime. Monetary strain is also more likely to lead to crime when individuals lack self-efficacy and self-esteem, view the rewards of crime as greater than the potential costs of punishment, and have developed personality traits that leave them more likely to react to strain with negative emotionality and low constraint.


The link between monetary strain and individual offending has a long tradition in criminology. Beginning with the work of Merton (1968) through to more recent arguments (see Agnew 2006; Baumer 2007), scholars have attempted to theoretically and empirically show that the failure to reach monetary goals, or the experience of adverse economic circumstances, can lead individuals to engage in crime to address these failures, improve their circumstances, and reduce the frustration that these experiences create. Scholars have provided a complex and nuanced map of the way that monetary strain is linked to individual offending and have presented a range of “research puzzles” that researchers have tackled to lend evidence to support our understanding of the causal process.

Scholars working within the strain perspective of criminology argue that everyone within North American society, regardless of class position, is encouraged and expected to strive to become monetarily successful. The goal of monetary success is emphasized and promoted in the media, family, and education system, making it difficult to avoid its influence. The result of this process is that a “substantial” or “significant” portion of individuals across all social classes adopt strong aspirations for financial success (Merton 1968). When an individual places a great deal of importance on the goal of financial success and prioritizes it over other goals, the failure to reach financial objectives creates dissatisfaction. When individuals experience monetary dissatisfaction, they begin to consider utilizing alternative means to satisfy their monetary goals including illegal means.

Beyond the failure to reach the goal of monetary success, negative economic circumstances including poverty, unemployment, and homelessness can also create monetary strain. These types of negative economic situations are viewed as undesirable in the broader society and for the individual immersed in these circumstances, the experience can be extremely negative. These types of situations serve to threaten an individual’s goals and identity and influence their ability to carry out activities and satisfy basic needs. The adverse economic experience in the context of cultural failure creates an additional possible starting point for utilizing crime to cope with financial difficulties. Important here is not only that these are objectively negative financial circumstances, but also that an individual subjectively perceives them to be negative and is dissatisfied with these conditions. If an individual does not interpret their economic circumstances to be negative, then strain will not emerge despite the adverse economic circumstances being experienced.

While the cultural emphasis on monetary success is advanced for all in the population, large portions of the populace are inhibited from achieving financial success due to barriers in legitimate channels. Monetary goals are more likely to lead to crime when individuals experience hurdles to the achievement of their financial goals. The major channel emphasized to achieve financial success by strain theorists is the acquisition of education and the subsequent securing of high quality employment. These avenues, however, are more available to some individuals than others. These channels can be undermined by prior familial and community socialization that fail to promote qualities that facilitate educational and employment success, including the development of work ethics, deferred gratification, self-discipline, and thorough planning skills. Certain familial and community situations may also be unable or neglect to provide the knowledge, connections, and social and financial support necessary to facilitate an individual’s success at school and in the job market. Finally, individuals from certain social and economic backgrounds may experience discrimination in educational and economic institutions that restrict their ability to reach their financial goals. Beyond inhibiting educational success and the reaching of financial goals, community and family dynamics can lead directly to negative economic outcomes including unemployment, poverty, and homelessness that are not only experienced as strain but can also serve as barriers in and of themselves to monetary goal achievement (Hagan and McCarthy 1997). Individuals with strong monetary goals are more likely to respond with crime when they encounter obstructions that undermine their ability to reach their goals through legal avenues. Further, those experiencing adverse economic circumstances are also more likely to engage in crime when they experience blockages to legal methods for improving financial circumstances.

The emergence of monetary strain does not take place in social isolation. Beyond the failure to achieve financial goals, monetary dissatisfaction, or the experience of negative economic circumstances, the development of monetary strain is also influenced by an individual’s perceptions of the efforts, financial achievements, and life situations of other people. Scholars argue that individuals will be more likely to experience monetary strain when they conclude that they are financially worse off than the people with whom they compare themselves (see Agnew et al. 1996; Burton and Cullen 1992; Passas 1997). This negative evaluation of one’s financial situation or goal achievement in comparison to others is referred to as relative deprivation. What is important here is the reference group that the individual adopts to make this comparison of achievements or life situations. Monetary strain is less likely to occur when reference groups selected share efforts and achievements similar to the individual’s own efforts and achievements. The choice to adopt a reference group with achievements much greater when compared to the individual will lead to greater feelings of monetary strain. The selection of a reference group can be influenced by one’s peer group who can guide one’s choice to appropriate comparisons. Further, in some societies, there is a significant weight placed on individuals to choose nonmembership reference groups. For example, the egalitarian ideology of North America and the “American Dream,” often lead an individual to evaluate themselves with reference to those higher in the stratification system (see Passas 1997). While this allows for individuals at all economic levels of achievement, except those at the very top, to experience relative deprivation, it is those lower in the stratification system that are at greater risk of feeling relatively deprived. This is because the selection of possible reference groups for those lower in the stratification system is broader and more likely to differ economically (see Passas 1997). It may also be that relative deprivation has a greater impact on the behavior of those in lower socioeconomic situations since the “subjective experienced gravity of these discrepancies” will be greater (Passas 1997, p. 65). The negative evaluation of one’s financial situation in comparison to others generates feelings of resentment and hostility. Perceptions of relative deprivation, therefore, can lead directly to crime. It is argued, however, that it is those with strong monetary goals, or who are experiencing negative economic situations, that are more likely to engage in crime when they perceive themselves to be relatively deprived.

Monetary strain is also more likely to emerge and lead to crime when individuals place the blame for their failure on sources outside of themselves (Cloward and Ohlin 1960; Hoffman and Ireland 1995). Individuals who externalize blame and attribute their failure to the labor market, education system, economy, or governmental activities are more likely to become alienated and withdraw their support for the legitimacy of conventional social norms. In contrast, individuals who make internal attributions and internalize blame for their economic failure or circumstances are likely to continue to support conventional avenues for goal achievement and refrain from illegal activities. Further, the impact of these external attributions is greater when individuals believe that the causes of their goal failure or adverse economic circumstances are controllable, intended, or preventable by others. In addition, perceptions that the external causes of one’s failure and financial difficulties are unlikely to change in the future can exacerbate the role that external attributions play in increasing the risk that monetary strain will lead to crime (Baron and Hartnagel 1997). Like the selection of reference groups, the directions and content of attributions can be influenced by one’s peer group. Situations where blame is placed externally, perceived as intentionally caused or controllable and unlikely to change, generate feelings of injustice and perceptions of unfairness that facilitate the potential link between monetary strain and crime. Those who fail to reach their monetary goals and are monetarily dissatisfied, and/or who are experiencing adverse economic circumstances, are more likely to engage in crime when they make external attributions for these situations.

The experience of failing to reach monetary goals, monetary dissatisfaction, and adverse economic circumstances, along with blocked opportunities, relative deprivation, and external attributions for failure, generate a negative emotional reaction. Possible reactions can include depression, frustration, and anger. Anger, in particular, is a key factor that intervenes between negative economic circumstances, monetary goal failure, and crime. Anger promotes feelings of power and stimulates desires for revenge, retaliation, and the righting of perceived unfairness and injustices which can lead to criminal reactions (Agnew 2006). How angry one becomes in response to monetary strain may be influenced by people’s beliefs about the level and degree of emotional reaction appropriate for these types of negative experiences. Once again, one’s peer group may also influence interpretations of monetary strain and the type and level of emotional response that evolves.

Recent theoretical work also outlines that the chronic failure to reach monetary goals and long-term experiences with negative economic circumstances can leave an individual at risk to develop trait anger, a personality characteristic where one is persistently angry (Agnew 2006). In these situations, individuals will often be in a state of angry arousal leaving them vulnerable to become easily angered when faced with additional negative economic experiences and outcomes. Those who respond to negative economic experiences and outcomes with anger are more likely to use criminal means to reach their goals, reduce their negative economic circumstances, and cope with the negative affect. This may involve active means, such as violence, vandalism, and offenses involving instrumental gain, or through more passive means, such as illegal substance use, to soothe the negative emotions.

There are a number of other factors that can strengthen the link between monetary strain and crime. First, all strain theorists outline that monetary strain is more likely to generate a criminal response when the commitment to, and belief in, institutional norms is weak. The failure to reach monetary goals, the negative economic circumstances, the monetary dissatisfaction, and the perceived injustice generated by relative deprivation and external attributions can lead individuals to “withdraw legitimacy from conventional social norms” (Cloward and Ohlin 1960; Hoffman and Ireland 1995). It may also be the case that individuals from certain backgrounds may never acquire strong conventional values that emphasize the use of legal avenues for reaching monetary goals (Merton 1968). When commitment to the conventional norms is weak, or destroyed, individuals may create, embrace, and implement illegal methods to achieve success and overcome negative economic situations. Further, they will be more likely to retaliate against perceived sources of their monetary strain, or to act on, or cope with, the negative emotions generated by monetary strain more easily than if they felt these criminal actions were morally wrong. The weakening of conventional beliefs allows for the development and adoption of nonconventional beliefs that promote various forms of law breaking as a method to cope with monetary strain. Therefore, deviant values increase the likelihood that negative economic situations and monetary dissatisfaction will lead to crime. Further, monetary goals themselves will be more likely to lead to crime in the presence of deviant values, particularly, when legitimate opportunities are blocked, people are economically dissatisfied, and there is peer approval (Baumer 2007).

Strain theorists emphasize that criminal peers can have a strong influence on whether individuals experiencing monetary strain turn to crime. Individuals who fail to reach their monetary goals, who experience negative financial situations, and who are monetarily dissatisfied often seek or develop collective solutions with other people who are also experiencing monetary strain. These similarly situated peers can work together in attempts to overcome financial frustrations and negative economic circumstances. Peers can provide strained individuals with encouragement, support, and rewards for engaging in crime to deal with monetary strain. If peers are utilizing criminal means to cope with monetary strain, they may educate the individual in this avenue as a means to deal with strain and provide training, opportunities, and assistance to successfully engage in these behaviors. Criminal peers can assist in creating an alternative value system and may further break down allegiance to conventional norms and promote beliefs that encourage breaking the law increasing the potential causal link between monetary strain and crime. Alternatively, they may fill the gap left by the breakdown of conventional norms caused by strain providing a value system that favors illegal means to cope with strain. Peer groups can also affect perceptions of what is considered to be monetary strain, influence causal attributions of monetary strain, impact the choice of reference groups when making assessments of relative deprivation, and provide parameters for the appropriate emotional reaction to negative economic outcomes and goal failure (Cloward and Ohlin 1960; Hoffman and Ireland 1995).

Strain theorists also suggest that an individual’s personal resources can influence reactions to monetary strain (Agnew 2006). Levels of self-esteem will influence an individual’s sensitivity to monetary strain and sway the ability to engage in legal coping strategies in response to strain. High self-esteem will buffer an individual from monetary strain, leaving the person less likely to utilize criminal coping strategies. Those with low self-esteem who are overwhelmed by monetary strain will be less able or likely to adopt conventional coping strategies. Self-efficacy will also influence an individual’s sensitivity and reaction to monetary strain. Individuals high in self-efficacy will be more likely to feel that they can cope with their monetary strain in a legal manner, leaving them less likely to utilize criminal coping. Lacking a sense that they can deal with monetary strain in a legal manner effectively will lead those low in self-efficacy to utilize criminal means.

Strain theorists also recognize that levels of social control can influence whether monetary strain leads to crime. Individuals who have few emotional attachments to conventional others and who have a low commitment to conventional institutions are more likely to respond to monetary strain with crime. People in these circumstances have little to risk or damage in terms of relationships, opportunities, and reputations if caught engaging in crime. In contrast, bonds with conventional others, a continued commitment to conventional activities, and a belief in the conventional value system may buffer the effect of monetary strain since the person risks damaging relationships, opportunities, and reputations by engaging in crime. Further, those with high social control have greater opportunities to learn skills and access resources to cope with monetary strain in a legal manner. Many negative economic situations, however, including unemployment and homelessness are associated with low social control. These negative economic circumstances often destroy or even evolve out of low social control. These conditions are often related to reduced emotional attachments to conventional others, a decrease in investments in conventional institutions, including employment, and a distancing of values supportive of conventional behavior (Agnew 2006; Baron 2008).

Related to this is the degree of social support that an individual has at their disposal to cope with monetary strain in a legal manner (Agnew 2006; Cullen and Wright 1997). Social support refers to the transfer of resources. Social support can come in two broad forms. First, it can be instrumental. This includes material or financial assistance, networks for positive advancement in conventional society, or the provision of information, guidance, and advice. Alternatively, social support can be expressive. This includes one person offering another understanding, allowing the display and sharing of emotions, as well as providing avenues that enable the expression of dignity, self-worth, and positive regard. When individuals experience monetary strain, those with social support can draw on this multifaceted resource to mitigate the potentially criminogenic impact associated with strain. The availability of supportive relations guards individuals against the impact of monetary strain by providing legitimate coping skills that inhibit the development of negative emotions and prevents the withdrawal of support for, and commitment to, conventional institutions and values. Social support can also reduce opportunities for crime by providing alternative settings and isolating at-risk individuals from criminally supportive peers. This is important because criminal social support from strained peers can lead to increased rather than decreased criminal reactions to strain. Therefore, the link between monetary strain and crime will be greater for those who lack conventional instrumental and expressive social support (Cullen and Wright 1997).

Individuals who exhibit personality traits such as negative emotionality and low constraint are also expected to be more likely to react to their monetary strain with crime (Agnew 2006). Individuals with negative emotionality and low constraint are easily upset and angered, tend to be impulsive risk-takers, and lack empathy for other people. These characteristics are likely to increase the relationship between monetary strain and crime because individuals with low constraint and negative emotionality are more likely to be sensitive to their goal failure and adverse economic situations, interpret these situations as strain, and view these situations as unjust. Individuals with these characteristics care little about the reactions of others and give little thought to the consequences of their actions, leaving them more likely to adopt criminal coping strategies. Further, individuals with these traits tend to have an aggressive interaction style and proneness for risk that increase the likelihood of an illegal reaction to monetary strain (Agnew 2006).

Finally, the perceived likelihood of formal punishment for crime also influences whether an individual will choose to cope with their monetary strain using criminal means. Criminal coping is much more likely when individuals experiencing monetary strain find themselves in situations where the costs of engaging in crime are low and the benefits are high. Thus, those who fail to reach their monetary goals or who are unemployed, homeless, or living in poverty will view criminal behavior as an attractive alternative when they believe that the odds of apprehension and punishment are minimal and the material, social, and emotional rewards great (Agnew 2006). The conditioning impact of potential punishment may be even more important when the strong monetary goals or negative economic circumstances are accompanied by minimal moral reservations against crime (Baumer 2007).

State Of The Art

There have been a number of recent research projects that examine the complex relationship between monetary strain and crime. This recent research has tended to show support for the argument that monetary strain can lead to criminal behavior. Some of this work shows support for the basic relationships between monetary strain and crime, as outlined by the theorists. For example, research shows that those who express monetary dissatisfaction are more likely to engage in property offending, violent offenses, drug distribution, and drug use (Agnew et al. 1996; Baron 2004, 2006, 2008). There is also evidence that economic problems (Agnew et al. 2008) and adverse economic circumstances like homelessness and unemployment can lead to a range of offenses (Baron 2004; Hagan and McCarthy 1997). Work also tends to show that relative deprivation is linked to property and violent offending (Baron 2004, 2006, 2008; Burton and Dunaway 1994).

While encouraging, the more complex arguments outlined by theorists stress the need to examine combinations of factors that link monetary strain to crime. The cursory work conducted so far has provided initial support for a number of the components of the multifaceted reasoning contained in these claims. Turning first to monetary goals, evidence suggests that such goals are not in and of themselves criminogenic. Instead monetary goals are more likely to lead to property and violent offending when individuals do not expect to reach those goals (Baron 2006). Further, monetary goals also appear more likely to lead to crime for people with lower levels of monetary satisfaction, and lesser occupational and educational achievement (Cernkovich et al. 2000) or if they are experiencing adverse economic circumstances (Baron 2006). Thus, it is in situations where reaching monetary goals are not viewed as attainable, are difficult to reach because of economic position, or are not satisfactorily attained, that individuals with strong monetary goals are more likely to engage in crime.

At an even more complex level, some work has revealed that the availability of legitimate opportunities reduces the criminogenic impact of monetary goals, even in the presence of reduced support for conventional values. Similarly, being economically satisfied reduces the criminogenic relationship between monetary goals and instrumental crime even when one is supportive of crime as a method to reach these goals. Alternatively, holding values that support the use of illegal means to reach monetary goals when an individual places strong importance on those goals is extremely criminogenic, particularly when opportunities to reach the goals through legitimate means are blocked or one is monetarily dissatisfied (Baron 2011).

Research has also shown that monetary dissatisfaction is more likely to lead to crime when accompanied by negative economic circumstances, including homelessness and unemployment (Baron 2006). Further, scholarship reveals that the criminogenic effect of relative deprivation is greater when accompanied by negative economic circumstances like homelessness. This suggests that while negative interpretations of economic situations can lead to crime, the likelihood of these negative interpretations leading to illegal behavior is stronger when individuals are also experiencing adverse economic situations. The research also shows that although adverse economic circumstances, like unemployment and homelessness, can lead directly to crime, they are more likely to result in offending when individuals experiencing these conditions associate with deviant peers and hold values that support breaking the law. Similarly, negative interpretations of adverse economic circumstances, like monetary dissatisfaction and relative deprivation, are more likely to lead to various forms of crime when individuals have adopted values that favor law breaking and also associate with peers who break the law. Therefore, the criminogenic effect of negative economic circumstances and negative interpretations of these circumstances is influenced by the types of people one associates with (specifically, people who support using illegal means to attain monetary goals), as well as the types of values one adopts (that is, where there is a withdrawal of support for the legitimacy of conventional routes to success) (Agnew et al. 1996; Baron 2004, 2006; Baron and Hartnagel 2002).

It has also been uncovered that negative economic situations like unemployment are more likely to lead to crime when people make external attributions for their circumstances (Baron and Hartnagel 1997). In addition, when negative economic outcomes are viewed as unfair, they are more likely to lead to offending behavior when people place blame externally (Baron and Hartnagel 2002). Further, negative interpretations of economic circumstances, like monetary dissatisfaction, are also more likely to lead to crime when one attributes blame to external sources (Baron 2008). Thus, adverse economic situations and negative interpretations of economic circumstances are more likely to lead to a criminal response when blame for the negative circumstance is placed on outside sources like industry, government, and the economy.

Research has also provided support for the argument that monetary strain leads to the development of negative emotions. For example, research shows that negative interpretations of economic circumstances, like relative deprivation and monetary dissatisfaction, lead to the development of anger over economic circumstances (Baron 2004, 2008). Work has also provided insights to suggest that negative economic circumstances are more likely to lead to anger when individuals attribute the cause of their situation to external sources (Baron 2008). Further, peer influence, together with external attributions for the cause of negative economic circumstances, also contributes to the development of anger over economic circumstances (Baron 2008). Finally, there is support for the argument that the angry emotions that develop out of negative economic circumstances are predictive of some forms of criminal offending, including violence and drug dealing (Baron 2008).

In sum, recent work has provided a great deal of initial support for various aspects of the argument that monetary strain leads to individual offending. This research, however, also clearly demonstrates that this linkage is anything but straightforward and that evidence is still required to test some of the proposed linkages outlined by theoretical scholars.

Possible Controversies In The Literature

Despite what has been called a common sense explanation to crime, the link between monetary strain and individual offending has been attacked because of the perceived lack of empirical support for the perspective. Early work examining the perspective tended to offer minimal or marginal support for the approach (see Burton and Cullen 1992). Many prominent scholars went so far as to declare that searches for links between monetary strain and crime should be abandoned. However, as can be seen from the summary of recent work reviewed, there appears to be a significant connection between monetary strain and crime. The controversy appears to be a product of researchers oversimplifying and frequently misinterpreting the way monetary strain is linked to crime (see Agnew and Passas 1997). For example, empirical tests have often reduced the monetary strain/crime explanation to the simple assertion that when individuals are unable to gain monetary success through legal channels, or experience negative economic circumstances, they will engage in crime. Further, these tests have often ignored theoretical developments that expand the explanation of the role monetary strain plays in the generation of individual offending (Agnew 2006; Agnew et al. 1996; Baumer 2007; Cullen and Wright 1997; Hoffman and Ireland 1995; Passas 1997). The result is that much of the research does not do justice to the complex process outlined by theorists. The failure to take into account reference groups, attributions, perceptions of monetary dissatisfaction, negative emotions, deviant peers, deviant values, social support, social control, deterrence, and personality characteristics, such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, and negative emotionality/low constraint, has been a serious oversight. The tendency to ignore the way that these factors condition the development and impact of monetary strain means that many of the hypothesized linkages have never actually been explored. As can be seen, preliminary explorations into these more complex relationships have provided evidence that monetary strain leads to crime. Through the efforts of a number of scholars, the argument linking monetary strain to individual offending has survived (see Agnew and Passas 1997).

In addition to the poor theoretical application, much of the past empirical research examining the monetary strain/crime link has been beset by methodological issues. First, the operationalization of strain has proved problematic. For a considerable period of time, researchers relied on a financial strain measure focusing on the disjunction between educational/occupational aspirations and educational/occupational expectations. Criticism has emerged outlining that this type of operationalization is dubious since it does not tap into the notion of the importance of monetary goals so core to the explanation, nor does it capture the sense of dissatisfaction associated with the failure to reach those goals or the subjective unhappiness with one’s monetary situation (Agnew et al. 1996; Baron 2006).

While advances have been made regarding this issue, there remains some debate regarding how to actually conceptualize and measure monetary strain (Agnew 2006; Agnew et al. 1996; Baumer 2007; Burton and Cullen 1992; Passas 1997). Although there is some agreement among researchers about the core concepts that need to be taken into account when exploring the theory, the way that researchers have chosen to interpret where in the causal process these factors should be placed and how they might possibly come together has led to an array of causal model types to be tested. These alternative interpretations will certainly provide research puzzles for future researchers to resolve. Over time researchers will hopefully clarify the causal linkage between monetary strain and crime.

A third issue that has plagued the research has been the tendency for scholars to utilize school populations to explore if monetary strain is linked to very minor forms of crime (Baron 2006; Burton and Cullen 1992). This trend has led observers to suggest that the monetary strain/ crime research has been misdirected. Critics argue that the monetary strain/offending link should be strongest among those not in school, for whom money is of a greater concern, and among the urban poor who experience larger barriers to achieving their goals. Further, the explanation, they argue, is designed to explain more serious forms of offending. Again recent work tends to support the approach advocated by critics, thereby rescuing monetary strain from being discarded as a potential cause of individual offending.

Open Questions

It is becoming clear that the link between monetary strain and individual offending is quite complex. Researchers continue to debate the precise manner in which monetary strain is linked to crime, regularly providing alternative interpretations, extensions, and operationalizations. This process has resulted in a myriad of ways to both conceptualize and measure monetary strain. As the overview to the current state of affairs illustrates these extensions, alternative readings and methodological advances have all provided valuable insights into the manner in which monetary strain can be linked to crime. Yet, these extensions also create further questions that will need to be resolved. For example, more work is required outlining the precise direct and indirect paths by which various forms of monetary strain can lead to crime. Here, for instance, the role of emotions has been overlooked in most research exploring monetary strain. While there is some supportive research, more work will need to be carried out to determine how anger emerges from the array of variables that can be characterized as strain, and whether anger mediates their impact on crime, or whether their role is direct. Also, to date, there has been little research exploring the conditioning roles of social support, social control, deterrence, and personality characteristics such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, and negative emotionality/low constraint and certainly, more work on reference groups, attributions, perceptions of monetary dissatisfaction, deviant peers, and deviant values is required.

Another issue is that the array of factors that can moderate the effect of monetary strain on crime is quite extensive, leading to debates over how these factors should be combined and which ones are the most important both in terms of creating anger and increasing the likelihood of offending directly. Related to this is the fact that it is still unclear how many of the factors should or need to be combined to provide an accurate understanding of the link between monetary strain and crime. Work has begun exploring how combinations of two factors, for example, monetary goals and low expectations, work together to create crime. However, recent theoretical reinterpretations stress the need to examine how a larger number of factors, for example, three factors, work together to increase offending likelihood (Baumer 2007). The potential combinations between theoretically central variables provide a number of avenues for exploration and suggest that the link between monetary strain and crime may be more complex and nuanced than what has been discovered so far.

There is also still some uncertainty over the application of the perspective to various populations. For example, while there is a theoretically strong argument linking monetary strain and crime for disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups, little work has explored this possibility and the minimal empirical work is not supportive to date (see Cernkovich et al. 2000). Further, the role that gender plays in the criminogenic process of monetary strain has been relatively underexplored (Baron 2007). This is important since perceptions of monetary strain may vary across gender, emotional reactions might be different, and criminal responses might be dissimilar depending on gender (Agnew 2006). Sparse work suggests that perceptions of monetary strain and emotional reactions to monetary strain may not vary across gender. The way males and females react to negative economic circumstances, and interpretations of those circumstances with crime, however, may be more gender specific and differ depending on deviant peers, deviant values, and attributions (Baron 2007). It is also the case that while the monetary strain explanation is certainly pertinent to understanding the crimes of economically marginal populations, it can also be applied to understanding crime in other socioeconomic locations. Again, there is sparse work that suggests that the ideas here can be utilized to explain whitecollar offending as well as street-oriented offenses (see Passas 1997).

There is also some disagreement about the link between strain and different types of offenses. Classic scholars, for example, suggest that goal failure leads to giving up monetary goals which in turn leads to using illegal substances. In contrast, contemporary work focuses on how having strong monetary goals can lead to substance use under the more complex process outlined. These seemingly contradictory arguments need to be further explored. It may be that the types of emotions that can be generated by strain, for example, depression, need to be examined, and linked to specific offenses. Further, internal attributions, or self-blame, that lead to more passive deviant responses to monetary strain may be a fruitful avenue to explore. It is clear that research examining a diverse range of populations and offenses, attempting to apply a more complex model using appropriate operationalizations, is certainly needed to provide broader support and explanatory refinement to the way monetary strain leads to crime.


In sum, monetary strain emerges when an individual is unable to reach monetary goals, experiences negative economic circumstances, or is dissatisfied with their monetary situation. This experience is exacerbated by blocked opportunities, feelings of relative deprivation, and external attributions of blame. This strain creates a negative emotional reaction that motivates individuals to engage in crime to cope with the monetary strain. The likelihood that monetary strain will lead to crime is increased when the individual experiencing the strain has few moral reservations about using illegal means, associates with criminal peers, has low social control and little conventional social support, has lowered personal coping resources like self-esteem and self-efficacy, exhibits negative emotionality/low constraint, and views the chances of legal apprehension and punishment to be minimal. The instrumental illegal actions taken can be seen as an attempt to satisfy monetary goals and overcome negative economic circumstances, while violence and substance use can be viewed as efforts to reduce the negative emotional affect created by monetary strain. Recent empirical work has provided early support for this explanation of crime. Yet, much work is still to be done to explore the full complexity of the theory and its application to an array of populations to explain a range of offending behaviors. These research challenges encourage current and future scholars to make strides to more precisely understand the important link between monetary strain and individual offending.


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