Is poverty the cause of crime?

Expert Answers

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We cannot know for sure what causes people to commit crimes.  It seems likely that poverty is a cause of crime, but it seems wrong to say that poverty is “the” cause of crime.

Different people believe that there are different causes of crime.  For example, biosocial theorists of crime believe that people are influenced to commit crimes by biological factors.  These can be such factors as the genes they inherit or they can be “environmental” factors such as poor nutrition.  To these theorists, crime is caused in part by physical/biological factors that interact with social factors. 

Other criminologists believe that it is not poverty per se that causes crime.  Instead, they believe that it is a “culture of poverty” that is to blame.  People who are poor, they say, often have cultures that lead them to value bad behaviors. 

However, there are scholars who would agree that poverty is the cause of crime.  Some would say that poverty causes crime by creating a situation where the poor are forced into crime.  In this view, the poor cannot find legal ways to make a living.  Naturally, then, they turn to crime.  Others would say that poverty frustrates the poor.  It makes them feel that the game is rigged against them.  This causes them to want to strike out against society.  Crime is one way in which they do this.

It seems likely that some combination of all of these factors is responsible for crime.  I would argue that poverty is part of the cause of crime, but it is not the entire cause of crime.

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