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So…what’s up with the crime rate?

by Rachel Lynn 15 days ago in guilty · updated 14 days ago

Why the crime rate is high in America compared to other places, and what a sea creature has to do with it.

No, seriously. What the hell?

Okay, yes. I’ll admit it.

The United States, despite being touted as the land of opportunities, is really, really unfair.

If you’re born into a low-income family from Chicago in 2021, you’re one of a reported 2,693,976. There’s a one in five chance you’ll be the victim of a violent crime. Now, if you were born in Plano, Texas you’d be one in 288,000, where in 2019 there were only 484 violent crimes in the last year. Your rates of being a victim of a violent crime are dictated by where you come from. The biggest issue? Wealth inequality. Merton’s anomie theory (that is, a theory of crime) fits right in here. The richer you are, either by your own doing or generated wealth, the more likely you are to be safer, more secure, and have more opportunities to advance in society, like through school or job opportunities.

If you’re like me, your brain went to anemone. Sea anemone. That weird looking plant/animal/creature from Finding Nemo. what the heck does that have to do with crime, you may be thinking. Well, apparently we’re both idiots because Merton didn’t mean a weird looking sea creature when he wrote anomie, he meant the social condition formed by values, structures and norms.

So I guess a sea creature doesn’t have anything to do with crime, but I like thinking of it that way. It’s fun to imagine a sea anemone robbing a store or something. I’d totally give it all the money in the cash register.


What is Merton’s’ theory? Well, there’s a difference of opinion but basically it’s that most people strive to achieve culturally recognized goals. A state of anomie develops when access to these goals is blocked to entire groups of people or individuals. Let me try to explain.

In Chicago, for example, the median income per household is approximately 58,247 USD. In Plano, the median income per household is a little more than 92,000. That’s an astronomical difference! People in Chicago and people in Plano are (reasonably assumed) to be American. Does that mean they all share the same values and norms?

Why would someone in Plano, Texas get the opportunity to make more money than someone in Chicago, and would that be a reason why Chicago has a higher crime rate? Let’s say you’re in Chicago and you lose your job. Now you don’t have a way of paying your rent and you get foreclosed on. Bam! Possibility of a property crime right there. Multiple studies have found that foreclosures increase violent crime in the block of the foreclosure.

The United States mortgage delinquency rate is 89% higher than at the end of 2019. You have less money, you get less opportunities. Only 57.8% of low-income students successfully complete a full year of college credit. Compare that to their non-low income counterparts, where the successful completion rate is 70.2%. That's a huge disparity, especially when most economists predict that more than 60% of jobs will require a degree or credential beyond high school by 2030. That sound familiar?

Thanks Merton’s Theory of Anomie!

You have made me more depressed than I already am.

The sociology dictionary defines values as “An ideal or principle that determines what is correct, desirable, or morally proper”.

Okay, so Merton’s Anomie theory is based on values and norms, and success is based on achieving the widely held beliefs on what is successful or desirable. That means the big question is: What makes American norms and values different from other western’ countries?

I think the biggest one would be religion. The United States of America was founded on the idea of religious freedom- the first colonies from Europe consisted of people who were trying to escape religious persecution, and as such in the United States there is a deeply ingrained belief in religion.

According to a Pew Research Society study in 2019, Half of Americans deem religion very important in their lives; while fewer than a quarter of the people in western countries like Germany (21%) and France (13%) share the same idea. When we evangelize or hold one religion true and close, our values and norms will reflect that, and as such will ooze into the crevices of society, consciously or unconsciously.

On another note, there’s no way I’m going into the finer details of religion, the cultural ideas, norms, and values that come from them, even if it does offer a reasonable explanation of and for verified differences in crime rates, norms, and values.

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, but I’m thinking I’ll at least try to avoid the great Internet Inquisition(™). Regardless of my desire to not get into an internet fight today, religion plays a cultural factor in crime rates; take using your religion to justify a hate crime. The Westboro Baptist Church does it all the time.

In that same Pew Research Study from above, it’s noted that , Americans are much more likely than Europeans to agree that “hard work is very important for getting ahead in life” (73 percent, compared to the European median of 35 percent), as well as disagree that “success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control.” You can infer this to mean any number of things, but I’d venture so far as to say that it basically means that Americans prioritize individual liberty while Europeans are more of an “everyone is in this together and we’re a collective society” sort of thing.

I mean, look at mask wearing. In a recent survey, when asked How Often People Say They Wear a Mask When They Leave the House, 84% of those surveyed in Spain said they always did, while in the United States only 59% percent did, with another 14% claiming they never wore a mask when they left the house. We’re in a global pandemic. Look up any mask-related video, and you’ll see someone (inevitably an American) saying it’s their decision to wear a mask, not their social responsibility. Anti-mask protests are even getting violent . That insentense focus on individualism as a core value and cultural norm leads to a rather significant ‘us against them’ policy. It’s easier to rob a stranger than someone who’s lived on your block your whole life.

That’s a significant cultural factor as to why perhaps the United states has a higher crime rate than other western countries. Of course, this is just an observation of what values, norms, and culture factors would influence a society rather than individualistic reasons for committing crimes.

Sure, there are other factors as to why the USA has a higher crime rate than similar western countries, but those are my ideas.

Looking back, I really wish this was just about sea creatures


Rachel Lynn

Graduate student. Forensic Anthropologist. Opera fan. Part time sewer rat in a human costume, full time idiot.

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Read next: Reason First: The Story of Selfless Murderer Albert T. Patrick

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