Social factors Socioeconomic deprivation

The voluminous literature on the relationship between socio-economic status and offending is characterized by inconsistencies and contradictions, and some reviewers(2.5) have concluded that there is no relationship between socio-economic status and either self-reported or official offending. British studies have reported more consistent links between low social class and offending. In the English National Survey of Health and Development, the prevalence of official juvenile delinquency in males varied considerably according to the occupational prestige and educational background of their parents, from 3 per cent in the highest category to 19 per cent in the lowest.

Numerous indicators of socio-economic status were measured in the Cambridge Study, both for the boy's family of origin and for the boy himself as an adult, including occupational prestige, family income, housing, and employment instability. Most of the measures of occupational prestige (based on the Registrar General's scale) were not significantly related to offending. Low socio-economic status of the family when the boy was aged between 8 and 10 years significantly predicted his later self-reported but not his official delinquency. More consistently, low family income and poor housing predicted official and self-reported juvenile and adult offending.

It was interesting that the peak age of offending, at 17 to 18 years, coincided with the peak age of affluence for many convicted males. In the Cambridge Study, convicted males tended to come from low income families at the age of 8 years and later tended to have low incomes themselves at the age of 32 years. However, at the age of 18 years, they were relatively well paid in comparison with non-delinquents. Whereas convicted delinquents might be working as unskilled labourers on building sites and getting the full adult wage for this job, non-delinquents might be in poorly paid jobs with prospects, such as bank clerks, or might still be students. These results show that the link between income and offending is quite complex.

Socio-economic deprivation of parents is usually compared with offending by children. However, when the children grow up, their own socio-economic deprivation can be related to their own offending. In the Cambridge Study, an unstable job record of the boy at the age of 18 years was one of the best independent predictors of his later convictions between the ages of 21 and 25 years. Also, having an unskilled manual job at the age of 18 years was an important independent predictor of adult social dysfunction and antisocial personality at the age of 32 years.

Between the ages of 15 and 18 years, the Cambridge Study boys were convicted at a higher rate when they were unemployed than when they were employed suggesting that unemployment in some way causes crime, and conversely that employment may lead to desistance from offending. Since crimes involving material gain (e.g. theft, burglary, robbery) especially increased during periods of unemployment, it seems likely that financial need is an important link in the causal chain between unemployment and crime.

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