Strain Theory in Affluent Youth

Robert Merton’s strain theory is very compelling in illustrating what causes criminality and most evidence supporting this theory is focused on strain in low income communities. On the other end of the socioeconomic extreme, strain theory provides convincing evidence as the cause of criminality in affluent adolescence in many ways similar to underprivileged adolescence. However, an inverse strain theory explains criminality due to lack of strain in affluent adolescence in isolation, pressures of achievement, and peer influence. The most interesting evidence that strain theory seems to ignore are the vast similarities of strain among both affluent and underprivileged youth.

The correspondence between these two socioeconomic extremes are isolation, peer influence, and pressures of success. The general definition of strain theory is the inability to achieve a certain goal due to the lack of positive stimuli and the presentation of negative stimuli.

Underprivileged youth has a lack of parental supervision and positive role models, because of their low income and the need to work long hours.

This is similar to affluent, but the lack of parental supervision is due to their high job demands that go beyond an hourly schedule. This makes parental figures both emotionally and physically unavailable to takes away the chance of creating a positive role model, as well as necessary supervision for deviant behavior. Studies have shown that affluent adolescents have busy after-school schedules and with parents strict career commitments, the lack of emotional and physical connection between parent and child is deeply missing. One could argue distress in affluent youth is not as profound due to the access of resources such as caregivers and psychologists, there are no studies that prove a parent’s presence can be replaced by hired help and organized extracurricular activities.

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Achievement pressures were paramount through parents pressuring their children to succeed as well as over-emphasizing their own success (Luthar, 2002).

The combination of isolation with the pressures to succeed like their parents have been proven to increase drug use, violence, anxiety, and depression among affluent adolescents even more so than inner-city adolescents (Luthar, 1999). This study showed that affluent kids have their parental success over-emphasized by expectation and indirectly by their everyday lifestyles. Not only is strain apparent in affluent youth through isolation of parental figures, but in peer influence as well. The presentation of negative stimuli has a very strong influence on criminality in both affluent and underprivileged youth. In Manhattan, New York a group of young men that attended elite schools were caught with large amounts of drugs and guns, calling themselves the ‘Main Line Takeover Project.’ The interview brought intimate insight in the romanticism of peer adoration in deviant behavior.

These boys described the feeling as being “movie stars” or “gods” when portraying the admiration from fellow classmates due to their criminal behavior (Flanagin, 2005). Another study also indicated that high levels of popularity within peers are linked to bad grades, defying authority, aggressiveness among girls, and substance abuse. Although strain theory convincingly illustrates causes of criminality that are similar to underprivileged youth, these causes of criminality are even more dangerous with the interaction of entities due to lack of strain. The lack of strain in affluent adolescents I declared as inverse strain theory consists of a term called affluenza that in turn creates a lack of fear in these individuals. The diagnosis “affluenza” emerged in the 1980’s to describe the psychological deficits in privileged youth and made headlines in 2013 when a 16 year old boy killed four people when driving a motor vehicle when intoxicated.

Affluenza argues that a young affluent cannot be held accountable for his criminal actions due to a sheltered upbringing and lack of consequences for one’s actions, thus blaming the criminal behavior on the parents for “enabling” this type of lifestyle. The lack of strain in these individuals colliding with certain straining entities create a dangerous understanding of criminality in affluent youth. This understanding of strain versus inverse strain with the lack of prosecution creates a lack of fear and with it, a convincing understanding of criminality in affluent youth. The ringleader of the ‘Main Line Takeover Project’ was released on on a $250,000 bail, the boy who killed four people in a DUI was put on probation. The combination of straining isolation and peer influence is made even more dangerous with the lack of responsibility and consequences.

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Strain Theory in Affluent Youth. (2022, Nov 08). Retrieved from

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