The significance of socioeconomic background factors for whether or not individuals become involved in crime has been widely discussed in the field of criminology, and the research literature in this field is extensive. The aim of this report is to provide an easily accessible overview of the knowledge that has been produced by this research.
The assembled research shows that there is a link between socioeconomic background and involvement in crime. Individuals from the more disadvantaged socioeconomic strata are at a higher risk of offending than those who come from a more affluent background. The correlation between socioeconomic background and crime is weak, however, and it is not possible to predict who will offend on the basis of knowledge about someone’s socioeconomic background. At the same time, Swedish and other register studies show that there is a clear excess risk for prosecution and conviction among individuals from the most disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds in particular.
Although there is no consensus on the specific factors that interact to increase the risk for offending among people from less favourable socioeconomic backgrounds, several researchers argue that indicators of a lack of socioeconomic resources in the family during childhood, together with various risk factors for crime, should be taken into account when designing preventive strategies. For individuals who repeatedly engage in offending, the results suggest that it is important to take their family situation into consideration, including levels of resources within the family, in combination with risk and protective factors linked to other environments and to the individuals themselves, when designing interventions. At the societal level, it may also be important to prevent the development of concentrations of households with low levels of socioeconomic resources in certain types of neighbourhoods.
The report’s findings are based on a literature review that includes narrative reviews, systematic reviews and meta-analyses, as well as individual studies that have examined individual-level differences in offending in relation to socioeconomic background factors. The review is based primarily on studies published by researchers in the United States, the Nordic countries and the rest of Europe, but also includes a number of studies from other parts of the world.
Different studies have used different indicators of socioeconomic background, such as parents' socioeconomic status or levels of education or income, or the family's financial resources in some other sense. The review proceeds on the basis of these studies’ own definitions and measures of socioeconomic background or related concepts, such as social class. The review presents findings from research based on both registered and self-reported crime.
The presentation of results is based on the following central question: According to the published research, what is the significance of socioeconomic family background during childhood for explaining individual differences in offending?
Sub-questions include: What do studies from Sweden and other countries say about the correlation between socioeconomic background during childhood and involvement in crime? Are there differences between men and women? How strong is this correlation, and how does this compare with the strength of the correlations found for various factors described in the research as established risk factors for offending? How do researchers explain the links between socioeconomic background factors and participation in crime?
Author: Jonas Ring and David Shannon
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