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Class and Crime

Definition Of Class

In addition to issues of the definition and measurement of crime, disagreements about the meaning and measurement of social class make it difficult to conclude whether or not class is linked to crime. Looking at social class categories as essentially a matter of differences in wealth and income, we can say in a general way that those who own a great deal of property and have high incomes are rich or upper class; those who own little or nothing and have low incomes are poor or lower class. Beyond this general notion the issue is quickly complicated. No commonly accepted set of classes exists. And a wide variety of gradational scales designed to measure social class have been developed. Self-report studies generally use reports of parent's occupation to create social class scores. At least one self-report study of adults asked for work information and used it to assign each respondent to a specific social class depending on his or her business ownership and employee or employer status (Dunaway et al.).

Studies of geographic distribution are more likely to infer the social class of an area based on measures that reflect the income and assets of those living in the area. Measures often used are the median income of the residents of each area, the proportion of home ownership, the median value of homes, median rent, the proportion of the population in poverty, median education, and the prevalence of dilapidated housing. Variations on these indications of area wealth and deprivation are sometimes used. Results vary according to the measures used and their construction and, more often, according to the size of the areas used—census tracts, cities, Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA), or states. An additional complication in discussions of the social class of geographic areas arises because it is possible to see people as rich or poor in either an absolute or relative sense. This has produced studies of inequality and crime in addition to, and sometimes instead of, poverty and crime. In such an approach the emphasis is on the gap between those with high incomes and those with low incomes.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawClass and Crime - Definition Of Crime, Measuring Crime, Definition Of Class, Early Work, Shifts In Focus