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Although many acts of violence are random events, there is a certain amount of patterning involved in who commits and who is victimized by violent crime. In particular, one of the stable findings of studies of violent behavior is that offending and victimization vary by class. Specifically, lower-class people are more likely to be violent offenders and also to be victims of violence compared to their middle- and upper-class counterparts. It is important to acknowledge this stable research finding and investigate some of the explanations that have been given for the disproportionate distribution of violence among social class groups.
The differential rate of violent offending and victimization among socioeconomic groups can be seen in victimization and offending data sets. Official data on victimization in the United States come from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). For example, the 2004 NCVS illustrates that persons in households with an annual income under $7,500 were robbed at a significantly higher rate and experience higher rates of assault than persons in households with higher income levels. Additionally, arrest and incarceration data illustrate that lower-class males are the most likely group to be arrested and convicted of violent crimes. However, it is important to point out that official arrest and incarceration data do not capture the full extent of who offends, only who is caught and convicted. A further limitation of the official data is that there is no definitive measure of social class available in the Uniform Crime Reports produced annually by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Despite these limitations, the overall picture that emerges from official data sources is that violent offending and victimization do vary by socioeconomic status.
So why is violence more prevalent among the lower class? There are two main types of explanation that are often called types of people and types of places explanations. In the first instance, the types of people explanation holds that there is something about people from lower-class groups that makes violent offending and victimization more likely. For example, the idea of a subculture of violence holds that cultural norms and values among lower-class people call for the use of violence in certain social situations, and violence is thus normative for people socialized into this culture. A second account of the relationship between social class and violence holds that the prevalence of violence has less to do with people and more to do with place. For instance, research shows that crime generally, and violent crime specifically, tends to occur more in areas of concentrated disadvantage, and this relationship holds true regardless of who actually lives there. Violence is more likely then in places that are disadvantaged because of deprivations, the lack of adequate social controls, or the low levels of collective efficacy rather than because of individual propensities to violent behavior.
- Krivo, L., & Peterson, R. (1996). Extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods and urban crime. Social Forces, 75, 619-650.
- Sampson, R. J., Raudenbush, S., & Earls, F. J. (1997). Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science, 277, 918-924.
- S. Department of Justice. (2004). National Crime Victimization Survey. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- Wolfgang, M., & Ferracutti, F. (1967). The subculture of violence: Towards an integrated theory in criminology. New York: Tavistock.
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