Question xiaomai Social Sciences

Family Risk Factors and Criminality

Why do some youths exposed to family risk factors not go on to become criminals?

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Answer Expert #13630

Various theories have been suggested to explain why some youths who experience family risk factors go on to become criminals, while others do not. Newburn (2007) cites positivist ideas such as a) determinism, which holds that there are biological, psychological or social factors that impel or constrain people to commit crime, b) differentiation which holds that criminal and non-criminal characteristics can be identified in individuals, and c) pathology, which assumes that something has gone wrong in the lives of offenders, but not in the lives of non-offenders. Alternatively, rational choice theory holds that young people commit crimes because they actively choose to do so “in a context of social inequality and unattainable aspirations” (Smith, 2007, p. 164). This suggests that factors in the environment, rather than in the individual, may explain variation in types and rates of offending between different young people.

Labelling theory offers another explanation, arguing that deviance is socially constructed, and that some young people resort to crime as part of a self-fulfilling prophecy because of early condemnation by others, including adults in positions of authority (Muncie, 2015). Some interesting insights have been discovered by ethnographic research also, such as the positive or negative effects of peers, and the emergence of youth cultures which reject dominant narratives of passive consumerism and seek out risk and difference instead in order to express their resistance (Sanders, 2005). There is no simple answer to the question why one youth commits crime and another does not, but there are many factors which undoubtedly work together to produce this outcome, and many ways of interpreting the complex processes involved.


Muncie, J. (2015) Youth and Crime. Fourth edition. London: Sage.

Newburn, T. (2007) Criminology. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

Sanders, B. (2005) Youth Crime and Youth Culture in the Inner City. Abingdon: Routledge.

Smith, R. (2007) Youth Justice: Ideas, Policy, Practice. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.