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Deviance and Social Control

Class, Age, Gender, Race, and Deviance

Factors such as class, age, gender, and race impact issues related to deviance and crime.

Sociologists studying crime and deviant behavior try to understand why rates of deviance and types of crimes differ between social groups. One theory is that class influences the development of deviant identity, the sense that one does not conform to or follow accepted norms of society. People with deviant identities understand or define themselves as deviant and then engage in deviant behavior to fit this sense of identity. This is true when the deviant behavior is criminal behavior, as well as noncriminal deviant behavior. A related issue is stigma, negative views and attitudes that convey social disapproval of a behavior. Whether or not a behavior is stigmatized, as well as the degree to which it is stigmatized, can vary among different groups and communities.

Sociologists also consider the ways social class impacts deviance and crime rates. Data suggest that low-income people commit more crimes than wealthier people. One possible reason is that poverty impacts the set of choices that people have. This can influence behaviors, including the potential for criminal or violent behavior. Age is another factor that influences crime. Data show that most crimes are committed by people under age 30. However, sociologists try to parse these data to understand what they mean. For example, younger people may be disproportionately accused of crimes or arrested. On the other hand, peer pressure might be a factor. Younger people are more susceptible to peer pressure and might be more likely to engage in deviant behavior because of it. Sex and the social construction of gender also impact deviance and crime. Overall, boys and men commit more crimes than girls and women. This can be linked to socialization, the process through which people learn the values, norms, beliefs, and expectations of their society. Social norms for boys and men stress power and competitiveness. This can encourage them to adopt particular patterns of behavior, including violent or criminal behavior. Although men commit the largest share of most types of crime, women dominate in one category: prostitution. This is tied to the many social norms around women's sexual behavior and an understanding of female sexuality as a commodity.

U.S. Arrests by Crime and Gender, 2015

Data from the FBI's 2015 Uniform Crime Report (UCR) show differences in crime rates for men and women. The social construction of gender plays a role in both criminality and in policing practices and beliefs. Sociologists look at how gender norms influence the behavior of criminals, suspects, and arresting officers.
The social construction of race also has a significant impact on crime, including crime rates and arrest rates. For example, in the United States, race impacts the likelihood that a person will be suspected and convicted of a crime. People of color—in particular, black and Hispanic people—are arrested, tried, and convicted at a higher rate than their white counterparts. Researchers note that these numbers reflect a system favorable to white people. Although roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population identifies as African American or black, this group accounts for nearly 40 percent of arrests. This imbalance suggests that race is a factor in how this group is treated in the criminal justice system.

Sociologists seek to understand why certain people are arrested for crimes more often than others and why some groups commit certain types of crimes. For example, upper-class white men commit most white-collar crimes, while women account for most arrests for prostitution. The key takeaway here for all these social categories is to understand how differences in crime rates and deviant behaviors are related to social class, poverty, gender, age, and race. In considering social class and crime, sociologists ask questions about who is poor in a society. In considering gender and crime, sociologists think about who is encouraged to act out their anger or to display physical dominance. In terms of age and crime, sociologists think about who has time to commit crimes because they are not busy working or raising families, as well as who is most susceptible to peer pressure. In considering race and crime, sociologists look at the impact of racism and the historical marginalization of people of color.