General Strain Theory

  • Robert Agnew
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)

The core idea of general strain theory (GST) is quite simple: individuals who experience strains or stressors often become upset and sometimes cope with crime. Such individuals may engage in crime to end or escape from their strains. For example, an individual with a desperate need for money may engage in theft or an adolescent being abused by her father may run away from home. Individuals may engage in crime to seek revenge against the source of their strains or related targets. For example, a student may assault the peers who are harassing him. And individuals may engage in crimes such as illicit drug use to make themselves feel better.


Parental Rejection Delinquent Peer Criminal Victimization Negative Treatment General Strain Theory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Agnew, R. (1992). Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology, 30, 47–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agnew, R. (1995a). Controlling delinquency: The policy implications of general strain theory. In H. Barlow (Ed.), Crime and public policy: Putting theory to work (pp. 43–70). Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  3. Agnew, R. (1995b). The contribution of social-psychological strain theory to the explanation of crime and delinquency. In F. Adler & W. S. Laufer (Eds.), The legacy of anomie theory: Volume 6 . Advances in criminological theory (pp. 113–138). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.Google Scholar
  4. Agnew, R. (1997). Stability and change in crime over the life course: A strain theory explanation. In T. P. Thornberry (Ed.), Developmental theories of crime and delinquency: Volume 7. Advances in criminological theory (pp. 101–132). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.Google Scholar
  5. Agnew, R. (1999). A general strain theory of community differences in crime rates. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 36, 123–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Agnew, R. (2001). Building on the foundation of general strain theory: Specifying the types of strain most likely to lead to crime and delinquency. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 38, 319–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Agnew, R. (2002). Experienced, vicarious, and anticipated strain: An exploratory study focusing on physical victimization and delinquency. Justice Quarterly, 19, 603–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Agnew, R. (2006a). General strain theory: Current status and directions for further research. In F. T. Cullen, J. P. Wright, & K. R. Blevins (Eds.), Taking stock: The status of criminological theory, advances in criminological theory (Vol. 15, pp. 101–126) New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.Google Scholar
  9. Agnew, R. (2006b). Pressured into crime: An overview of general strain theory. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Agnew, R. (2009a). The contribution of “mainstream” theories to the explanation of female delinquency. In M. A. Zahn (Ed.), The delinquent girl (pp. 7–29) Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Agnew, R. (2009b). Juvenile delinquency: Causes and control. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Agnew, R. (in press). Controlling crime: Recommendations from general strain theory. In H. Barlow & S. Decker (Eds.), Criminology and public policy: Putting theory to work. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Agnew, R., & Brezina, T. (1997). Relational problems with peers, gender, and delinquency. Youth & Society, 29, 84–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Agnew, R., Brezina, T., Wright, J. P., & Cullen, F. T. (2002). Strain, personality traits, and delinquency: Extending general strain theory. Criminology, 40, 43–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Agnew, R., Cullen, F. T., Burton, V. T., Jr., Evans, D., & Dunaway, R. G. (1996). A new test of classic strain theory. Justice Quarterly, 13, 681–704.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Agnew, R., & Jones, D. H. (1988). Adapting to deprivation: An examination of inflated educational expectations. Sociological Quarterly, 29, 315–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Agnew, R., Matthews, S. K., Bucher, J., Welcher, A., & Keyes, C. (2009). Socioeconomic status, economic problems, and delinquency. Youth & Society, 40(2), 159–181.Google Scholar
  18. Agnew, R., Piquero, N. L., & Cullen, F. T. (2009). General strain theory and white-collar crime. In S. S. Simpson & D. Weisburd (Eds.), The criminology of white-collar crime (pp. 35–60). New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  19. Arter, M. L. (2008). Stress and deviance in policing. Deviant Behavior, 29, 43–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Aseltine, R. H., Jr., Gore, S., & Gordon, J. (2000). Life stress, anger and anxiety, and delinquency: An empirical test of general strain theory. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 41, 256–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Bao, W., Haas, A., & Pi, Y. (2004). Life strain, negative emotions, and delinquency: An empirical test of general strain theory in the People’s Republic of China. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 48, 281–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Bao, W., Haas, A., & Pi, Y. (2007). Life strain, coping, and delinquency in the People’s Republic of China: An empirical test of general strain theory from a matching perspective in social support. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 51, 9–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Baron, S. W. (2004). General strain theory, street youth and crime: A test of Agnew’s revised theory. Criminology, 42, 457–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Baron, S. W. (2007). Street youth, gender, financial strain, and crime: Exploring Broidy and Agnew’s extension to general strain theory. Deviant Behavior, 28, 273–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Baron, S. W., & Hartnagel, T. F. (1997). Attributions, affect, and crime: Street youths’ reactions to unemployment. Criminology, 35, 409–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Blazak, R. (2001). White boys to terrorist men. American Behavioral Scientist, 44, 982–1000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Brezina, T. (1998). Adolescent maltreatment and delinquency: The question of intervening processes. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 35, 71–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Brezina, T., Piquero, A. R., & Mazerolle, P. (2001). Student anger and aggressive behavior in school: An initial test of macro-level strain theory. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 38, 362–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Broidy, L. (2001). A test of general strain theory. Criminology, 39, 9–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Broidy, L. M., & Agnew, R. (1997). Gender and crime: A general strain theory perspective. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 34, 275–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Capowich, G. E., Mazerolle, P., & Piquero, A. (2001). General strain theory, situational anger, and social networks: An assessment of conditioning influences. Journal of Criminal Justice, 29, 445–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Caspi, A., Moffitt, T. E., Silva, P. A., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., Krueger, R. F., & Schmutte, P. S. (1994). Are some people crime prone? Replications of the personality-crime relationship across countries, genders, races, and methods. Criminology, 32, 163–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Cernkovich, S. A., Giordano, P. C., & Rudolph, J. L. (2000). Race, crime, and the American dream. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 37, 131–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Cheung, C., Ngai, N., & Ngai, S. S. (2007). Family strain and adolescent delinquency in two Chinese cities, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 16, 626–641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Cloward, R., & Ohlin, L. (1960). Delinquency and opportunity. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.Google Scholar
  36. Cohen, A. (1955). Delinquent boys. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.Google Scholar
  37. Colvin, M. (2000). Crime & coercion. New York: St. Martin’s Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Cullen, F. T., & Agnew, R. (2006). Criminological theory: Past to present. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Currie, E. (1998). Crime and punishment in America. New York: Owl Books.Google Scholar
  40. De Coster, S. (2005). Depression and law violation: Gendered responses to gendered stresses. Sociological Perspectives, 48, 155–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. De Coster, S., & Kort-Butler, L. (2006). How general is general strain theory? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 43, 297–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Drapela, L. A. (2006). The effect of negative emotion on licit and illicit drug use among high school dropouts: An empirical test of general strain theory. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 755–770.Google Scholar
  43. Eitle, D. J. (2002). Exploring a source of deviance-producing strain for females: Perceived discrimination and general strain theory. Journal of Criminal Justice, 30, 429–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Eitle, D., & Turner, R. J. (2003). Stress exposure, race, and young adult male crime. Sociological Quarterly, 44, 243–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ellwanger, S. J. (2007). Strain, attribution, and traffic delinquency among young drivers. Crime & Delinquency, 53, 523–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Froggio, G., & Agnew, R. (2007). The relationship between crime and “objective” versus “subjective” strains. Journal of Criminal Justice, 35, 81–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ganem, N. M. (2006). The role of negative emotion in general strain theory. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Sociology, Emory University.Google Scholar
  48. Gibson, C. L., Swatt, M. L., & Jolicoeur, J. R. (2001). Assessing the generality of general strain theory: The relationship among occupational stress experienced by male police officers and domestic forms of violence. Journal of Crime and Justice, 24, 29–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Gottfredson, M. R., & Hisrchi, T. (1990). A General Theory of Crime. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Greenberg, D. F. (1977). Delinquency and the age structure of society. Contemporary Crises, 1, 189–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Hagan, J., & McCarthy, B. (1997). Mean streets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Harrell, E. (2007). Adolescent victimization and delinquent behavior. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing.Google Scholar
  53. Hay, C. (2003). Family strain, gender, and delinquency. Sociological Perspectives, 46, 107–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Hay, C., & Evans, M. M. (2006). Violent victimization and involvement in delinquency: Examining predictions from general strain theory. Journal of Criminal Justice, 34, 261–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2007). Offline consequences of online victimization: School violence and delinquency. Journal of School Violence, 6, 89–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Hoffmann, J. P. (2003). A contextual analysis of differential association, social control, and strain theories of delinquency. Social Forces, 81, 753–785.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Hoffmann, J. P., & Cerbone, F. G. (1999). Stressful life events and delinquency escalation in early adolescence. Criminology, 37, 343–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Hoffmann, J. P., & Su, S. S. (1997). The conditional effects of stress on delinquency and drug use: A strain theory assessment of sex differences. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 34, 46–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Ireland, T. O., Smith, C. A., & Thornberry, T. P. (2002). Developmental issues in the impact of child maltreatment on later delinquency and drug use. Criminology, 40, 359–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Jang, S. J. (2007). Gender differences in strain, negative emotions, and coping behaviors: A general strain theory approach. Justice Quarterly, 24, 523–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Jang, S. J., & Johnson, B. R. (2005). Gender, religiosity, and reactions to strain among African Americans. Sociological Quarterly, 46, 323–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Johnson, M. C., & Kercher, G. A. (2007). ADHD, strain, and criminal behavior: A test of general strain theory. Deviant Behavior, 28, 131–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Kaufman, J. M. (2005). Explaining the race/ethnicity-violence relationship: Neighborhood context and social psychological processes. Justice Quarterly, 22, 224–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Klemp-North, M. (2007). Theoretical foundations for gang membership. Journal of Gang Research, 14, 11–26.Google Scholar
  65. Konty, M. (2005). Microanomie: The cognitive foundations of the relationship between anomie and deviance. Criminology, 43, 107–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Landau, S. F. (1997). Crime patterns and their relation to subjective social stress and support indicators: The role of gender. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 13, 29–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Landau, S. F. (1998). Crime, subjective social stress and support indicators, and ethnic origin: The Israeli experience. Justice Quarterly, 15, 243–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Maxwell, S. R. (2001). A focus on familial strain: Antisocial behavior and delinquency in Filipino society. Sociological Inquiry, 71, 265–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Mazerolle, P. (1998). Gender, general strain, and delinquency: An empirical examination. Justice Quarterly, 15, 65–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Mazerolle, P., & Maahs, J. (2000). General strain theory and delinquency: An alternative examination of conditioning influences. Justice Quarterly, 17, 753–778.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Mazerolle, P., Piquero, A. R., & Capowich, G. E. (2003). Examining the links between strain, situational and dispositional anger, and crime: Further specifying and testing general strain theory. Youth & Society, 35, 131–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. McClelland, G. H., & Judd, C. M. (1993). Statistical difficulties of detecting interactions and moderator effects. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 376–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Messner, S. F., & Rosenfeld, R. (2001). Crime and the American dream. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  74. Moffitt, T, E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life-course persistent antisocial behavior: A developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100, 674–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Morash, M., & Moon, B. (2007). Gender differences in the effects of strain on the delinquency of South Korean youth. Youth & Society, 38, 300–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Ostrowsky, M. K., & Messner, S. F. (2005). Explaining crime for a young adult population: An application of general strain theory. Journal of Criminal Justice, 33, 463–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Paternoster, R., & Mazerolle, P. (1994). General strain theory and delinquency: A replication and extension. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 31, 235–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Piquero, N. L., & Sealock, M. D. (2004). Gender and general strain theory: A preliminary test of Broidy and Agnew’s gender/GST hypotheses. Justice Quarterly, 21, 126–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Pratt, T. C., & Cullen, F. T. (2005). Assessing macro-level predictors and theories of crime: A meta-analysis. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, 32, 373–450.Google Scholar
  80. Pratt, T. C., & Godsey, T. W. (2003). Social support, inequality, and homicide: A cross-national test of an integrated theoretical model. Criminology, 41, 611–643.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Robbers, M. L. P. (2004). Revisiting the moderating effect of social support on strain: A gendered test. Sociological Inquiry, 74, 546–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Sharp, S. F., Brewster, D., & Love, S. R. (2005). Disentangling strain, personal attributes, affective response and deviance: A gendered analysis. Deviant Behavior, 26, 133–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Simons, R. L., Chen, Y., Stewart, E. A., & Brody, G. H. (2003). Incidents of discrimination and risk for delinquency: A longitudinal test of strain theory with an African American sample. Justice Quarterly, 20, 827–854.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Slocum, L. A., Simpson. S. S., & Smith, D. A. (2005). Strained lives and crime: Examining intra-individual variation in strain and offending in a sample of incarcerated women. Criminology, 43, 1067–1110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Spano, R., Rivera, C., & Bolland, J. (2006). The impact of timing of exposure to violence on violent behavior in a high poverty sample of inner city African American youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 681–692.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Swatt, M. L., Gibson, C. L., & Piquero, N. L. (2007). Exploring the utility of general strain theory in explaining problematic alcohol consumption by police officers. Journal of Criminal Justice, 35, 596–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Thaxton, S., & Agnew, R. (2004). The nonlinear effects of parental and teacher attachment on delinquency: Disentangling strain from social control explanations. Justice Quarterly, 21, 763–792.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Wallace, L. H., Patchin, J. W., & May, J. D. (2005). Reactions of victimized youth: Strain as an explanation of school delinquency. Western Criminology Review, 6, 104–116.Google Scholar
  89. Walsh, A. (2000). Behavior genetics and anomie/strain theory. Criminology, 38, 1075–1108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Warner, B. D., & Fowler, S. K. (2003). Strain and violence: Testing a general strain theory model of community violence. Journal of Criminal Justice, 31, 511–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Agnew
    • 1
  1. 1.Emory UniversityAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations