A General Strain Theory of Racial Differences in Criminal Offending


Since 1992, General Strain Theory (GST) has earned strong empirical support and has been applied to several key correlates of crime (e.g., age, sex, community), but researchers have yet to fully consider how GST may aid in explaining racial differences in offending. While most explanations focus on macro level and macro-micro control processes, we argue that GST complements these explanations by highlighting the emotional and motivational social psychological processes that underlie criminal behaviour, thereby filling an important theoretical gap. In particular, we argue that African-Americans are likely to experience more and qualitatively unique types of strain compared to Whites, and that these strains in turn lead to higher levels of negative emotions among African-Americans. Further, we argue that the unique social conditions in which many African-Americans live may disproportionately lead them to cope with strain and negative emotions through crime. We believe these theoretical insights can guide future empirical research to create a fuller understanding of racial differences in offending.



Publication Date


Journal Title

Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology


Sage Publications

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type