Criminology has returned to a stage of development where class is no longer seen as a relevant theoretical or empirical concern. This state of classless criminology reflects the decline in radical scholarship over the past two decades and the absence of radical/Marxist critiques of criminology. Despite the neglect of class by criminologists, class remains an important construct for understanding the main issues of concern within criminology: crime, the construction of law, and justice. This article reviews the neglect of class analysis in contemporary criminology, and draws examples of the ways in which class remains an important consideration in the contemporary world where the world economy of capitalism dominates economic, social and political relations globally. In reviewing the neglect of class, examples are provided of contemporary areas of criminological research where class based theory and empirical work could alter what we know about crime. While orthodox criminology has long neglected class, new forms of critical criminology that emerged since 1990 have also promoted the neglect of class analysis.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
To be sure, criminologists have also classed attention to the importance of race, ethnicity and gender in the construction of crime, law and justice, but it is beyond the scope of the present study to address this issue. To be sure, it can be shown that ethnicity, race and gender also play a role in the construction of crime law and justice, and the current discussion of class is not a critique of race, gendered or ethnic analyses. Studies that refer to race, ethnicity and gender remain important to criminological discussions of crime, law and justice, but again, are well beyond the scope of the present analysis of class and criminology. Indeed, one would find that generally, research that ignores class also has difficulty addressing race, ethnicity and gender, but such a critique goes well beyond the scope of an analysis of the neglect of class. Despite their relevance to discussions of crime, law and justice, race, ethnic and gender structures are not uniform across nations while class structures are uniform especially from a theoretical perspective in which the analysis of class is derived from a theory of class and capitalism. For example, while race or ethnicity influences the construction of crime, across nations it is not the same racial or ethnic groups but racial and ethnic groups of “of concern” in different national contexts that are economically marginalized within the historical context of a given nation at a given stage of historical development that draw attention. In this sense, class supersedes other factors as the most obvious relational element presupposed by the study of crime, law and justice. To be sure, Marxist analysis has addressed the intersection of race, class and gender (see, for example, the Special Issue of Race, Gender & Class, volume 8, number 2, 2001; for additional discussions see: [6, 91, 105]), and has done so with respect to criminological theory as well ([64–67]).
An example of a study that compared sample class to population class characteristics is Dunaway et al. . Here, measures of the sample’s class correspondence with the general population was conducted for personal and family income. On both measures, the sample population had a higher mean income than the general population (for personal income, 9.5 % higher; for family income, 12.5 % higher). Equally important in this kind of research is providing some measure of the dispersion of income. In Dunaway et al’s study, the proportion of the population comprised of low income families (28 %) was much lower than in the population from which the sample was drawn (38 %). At the upper end of the distribution, families in the sample were more likely have earned $60,000 or more (20.7 % of the sample) than the general population (13.5 %). These large differences in income between the sample population and the general population with respect to class variable means and distributions indicate that we should not generalize the results from the sample population to the entire population, and that the results have no relevance beyond the sample being studied.
While the Tittle, Villemez and Smith study has more than 375 citations in the literature, criticisms of that study (, which appeared in Criminology) has fewer than 70 citations, indicating that criminologists do not pay significant attention to the critique of this class-crime relationship research. Tittle  reinforcing the conclusion that class and crime are unrelated, again despite finding that in some cases, SES and delinquency were related. Moreover, they generalized conclusions about the class-crime relationship without commenting on the measure’s empirical validity or theoretical content (for other anti-class discourse see ; for an alternative assessment of research on class and crime, see: [40, 100]).
Aaltonen, M., Kivivuori, J., Martikainen, P., & Sirén, R. (2012). Socioeconomic differences in violent victimization: exploring the impact of data source and the inclusivity of the violence concept. European Journal of Criminology, 9(6), 567–583.
Bakir, E., & Campbell, A. (2006). The effect of neoliberalism on the fall in the rate of profit in business cycles. Review of Radical Political Economics, 38, 365–373.
Barak, G. (2012). Theft of a Nation: Wall Street, Looting and Federal Colluding. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Barrett, K. L. (2013). Bethlehem Steel at Lackawanna: the state-corporate crimes that continue to victimize the residents and environment of Western New York. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 263–282.
Bellinger, D., Leviton, A., Waternaux, C., Needleman, H., & Rabinowitz, M. (1988). Low-level lead exposure, social class, and infant development. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 10(6), 497–503.
Ben-Tovim, G., John, G., Ian, L., & Kathleen, S. (1999). A political analysis of local struggles for racial equality. In J. Rex & D. Mason’s (Eds.), Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations (pp. 131–152). NY: Cambridge University Press.
Blanden, J. (2013). Cross-Country Rankings in Intergenerational Mobility: A Comparison of Approaches from Economics and Sociology. Journal of Economic Surveys, 27(1), 38–73.
Blanden, J., Robert, H., Timothy, S., & Kathryn, W. (2013). Intergenerational mobility in the United States and Great Britain: a comparative study of parent–child pathways. Review of Income and Wealth. doi:10.1111/roiw.12032.
Bradley, R. H., & Corwyn, R. F. (2002). Socioeconomic status and child development. Annual Review of Psychology, 53(1), 371–399.
Brisman, A. (2013). Gregg Barak: theft of a nation: wall street, looting and federal regulatory colluding. Critical Criminology, 21, 525–527.
Bryan, D. B., Martin, R., & Rafferty, M. (2010). Financialization and Marx: giving labor and capital a financial makeover. Review of Radical Political Economics, 41, 458–472.
Carlson, S. M., Bradshaw, E. S., & Buist, C. L. (2013). Bringing ‘the poor’ back in: regulation and control of surplus populations in Finland and the Netherlands. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 194–232.
Chambliss, W., & Seidman, R. (1982). Law, Order and Power. Reading: Addison-Wesley.
Clegg, S., & Dunkerley, D. (2013). Organization, class and control. London: Routledge.
Clelland, D., & Carter, T. J. (1980). The new myth of class and crime. Criminology, 18(3), 319–336.
Cohen, Y. A. (1961). Social structure and personality: A casebook. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Conger, R. D., & Brent Donnellan, M. (2007). An interactionist perspective on the socioeconomic context of human development. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 175–199.
Côté, S., Piff, P. K., & Willer, R. (2013). For whom do the ends justify the means? Social class and utilitarian moral judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(3), 490–503.
Dardanoni, V., Fiorini, M., & Forcina, A. (2012). Stochastic monotonicity in intergenerational mobility tables. Journal of Applied Econometrics, 27(1), 85–107.
Das-Munshi, J., Clark, C., Dewey, M. E., Leavey, G., Stansfeld, S. A., & Prince, M. J. (2013). Does childhood adversity account for poorer mental and physical health in second-generation Irish people living in Britain? Birth cohort study from Britain (NCDS). BMJ Open, 3, 3. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001335.
Dunaway, R. G., Cullen, F. T., Burton, V. S., & David Evans, T. (2000). The myth of social class and crime revisited: an examination of class and adult criminality. Criminology, 38(2), 589–633.
D’angiulli, A., Roon, P. M. V., Weinberg, J., Oberlander, T. F., Grunau, R. E., Hertzman, C., & Maggi, S. (2012). Frontal EEG/ERP correlates of attentional processes, cortisol and motivational states in adolescents from lower and higher socioeconomic status. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 1–16.
Duncan, G. J., & Magnuson, K. (2012). Socioeconomic status and cognitive functioning: moving from correlation to causation. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 3(3), 377–386.
Elliott, D. S., & Huizinga, D. (1983). Social class and delinquent behavior in a national youth panel, 1976–1980. Criminology, 21(2), 149–177.
Eysenck, S. B. G., & Eysenck, H. J. (1969). Scores on three personality variables as a function of age, sex and social class. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 8(1), 69–76.
Ferrell, J. (2007). For a ruthless criticism of everything existing. Crime, Media, Culture, 3(1), 91–100.
Ferrell, J., Hayward, K., Morrison, W., & Presdee, M. (eds). (2004). Cultural criminology unleashed. London: Routledge.
Foster, J. B. (2000). Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature. NY: NYU Press.
Gray, A. L. (Ed.). (2009). Class and Personality in Society. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Greider, W. (1998). One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. NY: Simon and Schuster.
Hackman, D. A., & Farah, M. J. (2009). Socioeconomic status and the developing brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(2), 65–73.
Hackman, D. A., Farah, M. J., & Meaney, M. J. (2010). Socioeconomic status and the brain: mechanistic insights from human and animal research. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 11(9), 651–659.
Hadjar, A., Baier, D., Boehnke, K., & Hagan, J. (2007). Juvenile delinquency and gender revisited the family and power-control theory reconceived. European Journal of Criminology, 4(1), 33–58.
Hagan, J. A., Gillis, R., Simpson, J. (1985). The class structure of gender and delinquency: toward a power-control theory of common delinquent behavior. American Journal of Sociology, 1151–1178.
Hagan, J., Simpson J., Gillis, A. R. (1987). Class in the Household: A Power-Control Theory of Gender and Delinquency. American Journal of Sociology, 788–816.
Hall, S., & Winlow, S. (2007). Cultural criminology and primitive accumulation: a formal introduction for two strangers who should really meet. Crime, Media, Culture, 3(1), 82–90.
Havighurst, R. J. (1976). The relative importance of social class and ethnicity in human development. Human Development, 19(1), 56–64.
Hosseini, H. (2006). From communist manifesto to empire: How Marxists have viewed global capitalism in history. Review of Radical Political Economics, 38, 7–23.
Hout, M., Brooks, C., & Manza, J. (1993). The persistence of classes in post-industrial societies. International Sociology, 8(3), 259–277.
Hsieh, C.-C., & Pugh, M. D. (1993). Poverty, income inequality, and violent crime: a meta- analysis of recent aggregate data studies. Criminal Justice Review, 18(2), 182–202.
Kohn, M. L. (1989). Social structure and personality: a quintessentially sociological approach to social psychology. Social Forces, 68(1), 26–33.
Kotz, D. M. (2008). Contradictions of economic growth in the neoliberal Era: accumulation and crisis in the contemporary U.S. Economy. Review of Radical Political Economics, 40, 174–188.
Kotz, D. M. (2003). Neoliberalism and the social structure of accumulation theory of long-Run capital accumulation. Review of Radical Political Economics, 35, 263–270.
Kramer, R. C. (2013). Carbon in the atmosphere and power in America: climate change as a corporate-state crime. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 152–170.
Kraus, M. W., & Stephens, N. M. (2012). A road map for an emerging psychology of social class. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(9), 642–656.
Krieger, N., Williams, D. R., & Moss, N. E. (1997). Measuring social class in US public health research: concepts, methodologies, and guidelines. Annual Review of Public Health, 18(1), 341–378.
Langford, T. (2013). Five decades of class analysis in the Canadian review of sociology. Canadian Review of Sociology, 50(3), 306–336.
Lende, D. H. (2012). Poverty poisons the brain. Annals of Anthropological Practice, 36(1), 183–201.
Lippit, V. D. (2004). Class struggles and the reinvention of American capitalism in the second half of the twentieth century. Review of Radical Political Economics, 36, 336–343.
Lukács, G. (1971). History and Class Consciousness. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Lurie, O. R. (1974). Parents’ attitudes toward Children’s problems and toward the use of mental health services: socioeconomic differences. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 44(1), 109–120.
Lynch, J. W., Kaplan, G. A., & Salonen, J. T. (1997). Why do poor people behave poorly? Variation in adult health behaviours and psychosocial characteristics by stages of the socioeconomic lifecourse. Social Science & Medicine, 44(6), 809–819.
Lynch, M. J. (2013). Political economy and crime: an overview. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 138–140.
Lynch, M. J. (2013). Reexamining Political economy and crime and explaining the crime drop. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 248–262.
Lynch, M. J. (2013). The extraordinary relevance of Gregg Barak’s “theft of a nation”. Western Criminological Review, 14(2), 52–60.
Lynch, M. J. (1996). Race, Class, Gender and Criminology: Structured Choices and the Life Course. In M. Schwartz & D. Milovanovic (Eds.), Gender, Race and Class in Criminology. Hamden: Garland.
Lynch, M. J., & Michalowski, R. J. (2006). Primer in Radical Criminology. Monsey: Criminal Justice Press.
Mack, K. Y., & Leiber, M. J. (2005). Race, gender, single-mother households, and delinquency a further test of power-control theory. Youth & Society, 37(2), 115–144.
Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1970). The German ideology. London: Lawrence & Wishart.
McCarthy, B., & Hagan, J. (1987). Gender, delinquency, and the great depression: a test of power-control theory. Canadian Review of Sociology, 24(2), 153–177.
McDonough, T. (2008). Social structures of accumulation theory: the state of the art. Review of Radical Political Economics, 40, 153–173.
McLoyd, V. C. (1998). Socioeconomic disadvantage and child development. American Psychologist, 53(2), 185–204.
Meier, A., & Allen, G. (2008). Intimate relationship development during transition to adulthood: differences by social class. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 119, 25–39.
Messerschmidt, J. W. (2000). Nine lives: adolescent masculinities, the body, and violence. Boulder: Westview Press.
Messerschmidt, J. (1997). Crime as structured action: Gender, race, class, and crime in the making. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Messerschmidt, J. W. (1993). Masculinities and crime: Critique and reconceptualization of theory. Totowa: Rowman & Littlefield.
Messerschmidt, J. W. (1986). Capitalism, Patriarchy and Crime. Totowa: Rowman & Littlefield.
Michalowski, R. J. (2013). Ethnic cleansing american-style: SB 1070, nativism and the contradictions of Neo-liberal globalization. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 171–193.
Mills, C. W. (1962). The Marxists. NY: Dell.
Mills, C. W. (1959). The Sociological Imagination. NY: Oxford University Press.
Muntaner, C., Edwin, N., Christophe, V., Sharon, C., & Eaton, W. W. (2013). Social Stratification, Social Closure, and Social Class as Determinants of Mental Health Disparities. In C. S. Aneshensel, J. C. Phelan, & A. Bierman (Eds.), Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health (pp. 205–227). Netherlands: Springer.
Murray, E. T., B.-S. Yoav, Tilling, K., Southall H., Aucott P., Kuh D., Hardy R. (2013). Area deprivation across the life course and physical capability in midlife: findings from the 1946 British Birth Cohort. American Journal of Epidemiology, 178, doi: 10.1093/aje/kwt003
Nivette, A. E. (2011). Cross-national predictors of crime: a meta-analysis. Homicide Studies, 15(2), 103–131.
Noble, K. G., McCandliss, B. D., & Farah, M. J. (2007). Socioeconomic gradients predict individual differences in neurocognitive abilities. Developmental Science, 10(4), 464–480.
Nurius, P. S., Uehara, E., & Zatzick, D. F. (2013). Intersection of stress, social disadvantage, and life course processes: reframing trauma and mental health. American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 16(2), 91–114.
O’Brien, R. M. (1991). Sex rations and rape rates: a power control theory. Criminology, 29(1), 99–114.
O’Hara, P. A. (2004). A New transnational corporate social structure of accumulation for long-wave upswing in the world economy? Review of Radical Political Economics, 36, 328–335.
Olsen, E. K. (2010). Class conflict and industrial location. Review of Radical Political Economics, 42, 344–352.
Oriola, T., Neverson, N., & Adeyanju, C. T. (2012). ‘They should have just taken a gun and shot my son’: taser deployment and the downtrodden in Canada. Social Identities, 18(1), 65–83.
Pakulski, J. (1993). The dying of class or Marxist class theory? International Sociology, 8(3), 279–292.
Papapolydorou, M. (2013). ‘When you see a normal person . . .’: social class and friendship networks among teenage students. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 34(4), 1–19.
Pettit, B., & Western, B. (2004). Mass imprisonment and the life course: race and class inequality in US incarceration. American Sociological Review, 69(2), 151–169.
Raizada, R. D. S., & Kishiyama, M. M. (2010). Effects of socioeconomic status on brain development, and how cognitive neuroscience may contribute to levelling the playing field. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 4(3), 1–17.
Reiman, J., & Leighton, P. (2012). The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.
Rieu, D.-M. (2009). Interpretations of Marxian value theory in terms of the fundamental Marxian theorem. Review of Radical Political Economics, 41, 216–226.
Roberts, B. W., Kuncel, N. R., Shiner, R., Caspi, A., & Goldberg, L. R. (2007). The power of personality: the comparative validity of personality traits, socioeconomic status, and cognitive ability for predicting important life outcomes. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(4), 313–345.
Russ, S. A., Larson, K., Tullis, E., & Halfon, N. (2013). A lifecourse approach to health development: implications for the maternal and child health research agenda. Maternal and Child Health Journal. doi:10.1007/s10995-013-1284-z.
Schofield, T. J., Martin, M. J., Conger, K. J., Neppl, T. M., Brent Donnellan, M., & Conger, R. D. (2011). Intergenerational transmission of adaptive functioning: a test of the interactionist model of SES and human development. Child Development, 82(1), 33–47.
Scholte, J. A. (2005). Globalization: A Critical Introduction. NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Savolainen, J., Paananen, R., Merikukka, M., Aaltonen, M., & Gissler, M. (2013). Material deprivation or minimal education? social class and crime in an egalitarian welfare state. Advances in Life Course Research, 18(3), 175–184.
Solomos, J. (1999). Varieties of Marxist concepts of ‘race’, class and the state: A critical analysis. In J. Rex & D. Mason’s (Eds.), Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations (pp. 84–109). NY: Cambridge University Press.
Staff, J., & Mortimer, J. T. (2008). Social class background and the school-to-work transition. New Direction for Child and Adolescent Development, 199, 55–69.
Stretesky, P. B., Long, M. A., & Lynch, M. J. (2013). Does environmental enforcement slow the treadmill of production? The relationship between large monetary fines penalties, ecological disorganization and toxic releases within offending corporations. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 233–247.
Terrill, W., & Reisig, M. D. (2003). Neighborhood context and police use of force. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 40(3), 291–321.
Tiikkaja, S., Sandin, S., Malki, N., Modin, B., Sparén, P., & Hultman, C. M. (2013). Social class, social mobility and risk of psychiatric disorder-a population-based longitudinal study. PLoS One, 8(11), e77975.
Tittle, C. (1983). Social class and criminal behavior: a critique of the theoretical foundation. Social Forces, 62(2), 334–358.
Tittle, C. R., & Meier, R. F. (1990). Specifying the SES/delinquency relationship. Criminology, 28(2), 271–300.
Tittle, C. R., Villemez, W. J., & Smith, D. A. (1978). The myth of social class and criminality: an empirical assessment of the empirical evidence. American Sociological Review, 43, 643–656.
Tudge, J. (2009). The everyday lives of young children: culture, class and child rearing in diverse societies. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Van Dusen, K. T., Mednick, S. A., Gabrielli, W. F., & Hutchings, B. (1983). Social class and crime in an adoption cohort. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 74(1), 249–269.
Wallerstein, I. (1974). The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic.
Walsh, A. (2010). Social class and crime: A biosocial approach. Taylor & Francis.
Wickrama, K. K. A. S., Mancini, J. A., Kwag, K., & Kwon, J. (2013). Heterogeneity in multidimensional health trajectories of late Old years and socioeconomic stratification: a latent trajectory class analysis. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 68(2), 290–297.
Wilkinson, R. G., & Pickett, K. E. (2009). Income inequality and social dysfunction. Annual Review of Sociology, 35, 493–511.
Wolpe, H. (1999). Class, concepts, class struggle and racism. In J. Rex & D. Mason’s (Eds.), Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations (pp. 110–130). NY: Cambridge University Press.
Wright, E. O. (1997). Class Counts: Comparative Studies in Class Analysis. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.
Yankauer, A., Gross, K. G., & Romeo, S. M. (1953). An evaluation of prenatal care and its relationship to social class. American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health, 43(8), 1001–1008.
About this article
Cite this article
Lynch, M.J. The classlessness state of criminology and why criminology without class is rather meaningless. Crime Law Soc Change 63, 65–90 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-015-9553-y
- Social Class
- Class Analysis
- Class Structure
- Class Relation
- Environmental Crime