Asian Journal of Criminology

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 131–147 | Cite as

Using General Strain Theory to Explain Crime in Asian Societies



This paper provides an overview of general strain theory (GST) and argues that the theory can shed much light on the causes of crime in Asian societies. The paper is in five parts, with these parts describing (1) the strains most likely to cause crime; (2) why these strains cause crime; (3) the factors influencing whether strained individuals cope through crime; (4) how GST explains group differences in crime, such as the higher crime rate of males; and (5) how GST explains changes in crime over time, such as the recent increase in delinquency in certain Asian societies. Each section begins by describing the key arguments of GST and the research on these arguments. This is followed by a discussion of the extent to which these arguments apply to Asian societies. GST is said to be quite applicable to Asian societies. For example, most of the strains that cause crime in Western societies also cause crime in Asian societies. At the same time, it is argued that GST should be revised somewhat in order to best explain crime in Asian societies. Researchers, for example, should take account of the greater emphasis on collectivistic values in many Asian societies, including the value placed on social harmony and self-restraint. These values influence the events and conditions that function as strains and the reaction to strains. In making these arguments, the paper draws heavily on the research that has applied GST to Asian societies, most commonly to Chinese, Taiwanese, and South Korean communities.


General strain theory Strain Stress Causes Crime Juvenile delinquency 


  1. Agnew, R. (1992). Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology, 30, 47–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 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 (pp. 101–132). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.Google Scholar
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. Agnew, R. (2002). Experienced, vicarious, and anticipated strain: an exploratory study focusing on physical victimization and delinquency. Justice Quarterly, 19, 603–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Agnew, R. (2006). Pressured into crime: an overview of general strain theory. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Agnew, R. (2010). A general strain theory of terrorism. Theoretical Criminology, 14(2), 131–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Agnew, R. (2011). Toward a unified criminology: integrating assumptions about crime, people, and society. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Agnew, R. (2012). General strain theory. In M. D. Krohn, A. J. Lizotte, & G. P. Hall (Eds.), Handbook on crime and deviance (pp. 169–195). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  10. Agnew, R. (2013). When criminal coping is likely: an extension of general strain theory. Deviant Behavior, 34, 653–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Agnew, R., & Brezina, T. (2015). Juvenile delinquency: causes and control. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Agnew, R., Matthews, S. K., Bucher, J., Welcher, A. N., & Keyes, C. (2008). Socioeconomic status, economic problems, and delinquency. Youth & Society, 40, 159–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 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.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Agnew, R. (2014). The origin of strains: why certain events and conditions are disliked. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  15. Agnew, R. (2014b). Social concern and crime: moving beyond the assumption of simple self-interest. Criminology, 52(1), 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Anderson, E. (1999). Code of the street. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  17. Bao, W., & Haas, A. (2009). Social change, life strain, and delinquency among Chinese urban adolescents. Sociological Focus, 42(3), 285–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Bao, W., Haas, A., Chen, X., & Pi, Y. (2014). Repeated strains, social control, social learning, and delinquency: testing an integrated model of general strain theory in China. Youth & Society, 46(3), 402–424.Google Scholar
  19. 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(3), 281–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Bao, W., Haas, A., & Pi, Y. (2007). Life strain, coping, and delinquency in the People’s Republic of China. Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 51(1), 9–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Bao, W., Haas, A., & Xie, Y. (2012). Life strain, social control, social learning and delinquency: the effects of gender, age, and family ses among Chinese adolescents. Paper presented at the American Society of Criminology meetings, Chicago.Google Scholar
  22. Botchkovar, E. V., Tittle, C. R., & Antonaccio, O. (2009). General strain theory: additional evidence using cross-cultural data. Criminology, 47, 131–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Braithwaite, J. (2011). Anomie and violence in Indonesia and Timor-Leste, 1997–2009. Asian Journal of Criminology, 6, 51–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Brezina, T. (2010). Anger, attitudes and aggressive behavior: exploring the affective and cognitive foundations of angry aggression. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 26(2), 186–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Broidy, L. M., & Agnew, R. (1997). Gender and crime: a general strain theory perspective. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 34(3), 275–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Cheung, C., Ngai, N., & Ngai, S. S. (2007). Family strain and adolescent delinquency in two Chinese cities, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Journal of Children and Family Studies, 16, 626–641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Cheung, N.W.T. (forthcoming). Strain, self-control, and juvenile gambling pathology: evidence from Chinese adolescents. Youth & Society. Google Scholar
  28. Cheung, N. W. T., & Cheung, Y. W. (2008). Self-control, social factors, and delinquency: a test of the general theory of crime among adolescents in Hong Kong. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37, 412–430.Google Scholar
  29. Cheung, N. W. T., & Cheung, Y. W. (2010). Strain, self-control, and gender differences in delinquency among Chinese adolescents: extending general strain theory. Sociological Perspectives, 53(3), 321–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Cheung, Y. W., Choi, S. Y. P., & Cheung, A. K. L. (2014). Strain, self-control, and spousal violence: a study of husband-to-wife violence in Hong king. Violence and Victims, 29, 280–299.Google Scholar
  31. Cloward, R., & Ohlin, L. (1960). Delinquency and opportunity. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.Google Scholar
  32. Cohen, A. (1955). Delinquent boys. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.Google Scholar
  33. Colvin, M. (2000). Crime and coercion. New York: St. Martin’s Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. De Coster, S., & Zito, R. C. (2010). Gender and general strain theory: the gendering of emotional experiences and expressions. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 26(2), 224–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Froggio, G., & Agnew, R. (2007). The relationship between crime and “objective” versus “subjective” strains. Journal of Criminal Justice, 35, 81–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ganem, N. M. (2010). The role of negative emotion in general strain theory. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 26(2), 167–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 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
  38. Horton, R., Rice, S. K., Piquero, N. L., & Piquero, A. R. (2012). On the variability of anger cross-culturally: an assessment of general strain theory’s primary mediator. Deviant Behavior, 33, 260–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Jiang, S., Wang, J., & Lambert, E. (2010). Correlates of informal social control in Guangzhou, China neighborhoods. Journal of Criminal Justice, 38, 460–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kaufman, J. M., Rebellon, C. J., Thaxton, S., & Agnew, R. (2008). A general strain theory of racial differences in offending. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 41, 421–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Leung, K. (2005). How generalizable are justice effects across cultures? In J. Greenberg & J. A. Colquitt (Eds.), Handbook of organizational justice (pp. 551–586). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  42. Lin, W. (2011). General strain theory and juvenile delinquency: a cross-cultural study. Dissertation, University of South Florida. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest.Google Scholar
  43. Lin, W. (2012). General strain theory in Taiwan: a latent growth curve modeling approach. Asian Criminology, 7, 37–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lin, W., & Mieczkowski, T. (2011). Subjective strains, conditioning factors, and juvenile delinquency: general strain theory in Taiwan. Asian Criminology, 6, 69–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Liu, J., Jou, S., & Hebenton, B. (2013). Handbook of Asian criminology. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Liu, R. X. (2011). Strain as a moderator of the relationship between parental attachment and delinquent participation: a China study. International Criminal Justice Review, 21(4), 427–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Liu, R. X., & Lin, W. (2007). Delinquency among Chinese adolescents: modeling sources of frustration and gender differences. Deviant Behavior, 28, 409–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lo, T. W., & Jiang, G. (2006). Inequality, crime and the floating population. Asian Criminology, 1, 103–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mazerolle, P., & Maahs, J. (2000). General strain theory and delinquency: an alternative examination of conditioning influences. Justice Quarterly, 17(2), 323–343.Google Scholar
  50. Maxwell, S. R. (2001). A focus on familial strain: antisocial behavior and delinquency in Filipino society. Sociological Inquiry, 71(3), 265–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Moon, B., Blurton, D., & McCluskey, J. D. (2008). General strain theory and delinquency. Crime & Delinquency, 54(4), 582–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Moon, B., & Morash, M. (2004). Adaptation of theory for alternative cultural contexts: Agnew’s general strain theory in South Korea. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 28(2), 77–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Moon, B., Morash, M., & McCluskey, J. D. (2012). General strain theory and school bullying: an empirical test in South Korea. Crime & Delinquency, 58(6), 827–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Moon, B., Morash, M., McCluskey, J. D., & Hwang, H. (2009). A comprehensive test of general strain theory. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 46(2), 182–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Morash, M., & Moon, B. (2007). Gender differences in the effects of strain on the delinquency of South Korean Youth. Youth & Society, 38(3), 300–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Ngai, P., & Huilin, L. (2010). Unfinished proletarianization: self, anger, and class action among the second generation of peasant-workers in present-day China. Modern China, 36(5), 493–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Perez, D. M., Jennings, W. G., & Gover, A. R. (2008). Specifying general strain theory: an ethnically relevant approach. Deviant Behavior, 29, 544–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Pyrooz, D. C., & Decker, S. H. (2013). Delinquent behavior, violence, and gang involvement in China. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 29(2), 251–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rebellon, C. J., Manasse, M. E., Van Gundy, K. T., & Cohn, E. S. (2012). Perceived injustice and delinquency: a test of general strain theory. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(3), 230–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Scheuerman, H. (2014). Clarifying criminological and social psychological theory: a second look at the relationship between injustice and general strain theory. Sociology Compass, 8, 203–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Shek, D. T. L. (2005a). A longitudinal study of Chinese cultural beliefs about adversity, psychological well-being, delinquency and substance abuse in Chinese adolescents with economic disadvantage. Social Indicators Research, 71, 385–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Shek, D. T. L. (2005b). Economic stress, emotional quality of life, and problem behavior in Chinese adolescents with and without economic disadvantage. Social Indicators Research, 71, 363–383.Google Scholar
  63. Sigfusdottir, I. D., Krisjansson, A. L., & Agnew, R. (2012). A comparative analysis of general strain theory. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40, 117–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Slocum, A. A. (2010). General strain theory and continuity in offending over time: assessing and extending GST explanations of persistence. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 26(2), 204–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sun, I. Y., Chu, D. C., & Sung, H. (2011). A cross-national analysis of the mediating effect of economic deprivation on crime. Asian Criminology, 6, 15–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Webb, V. J., Ren, L., Zhao, J. S., He, N. P., & Marshall, I. H. (2011). A comparative study of youth gangs in China and the United States: definition, offending, and victimization. International Criminal Justice Review, 21(3), 225–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wen, M., & Wang, G. (2009). Demographic, psychological, and social environmental factors of loneliness and satisfaction among rural-to-urban migrants in Shanghai, China. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 50(2), 155–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Yuma, Y. (2008). An interaction effect between strain and delinquent peers on college students’ deviant behavior in a classroom. Shinrigaku Kenkya, 79(3), 224–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Zhang, L. (2008). Juvenile delinquency and justice in contemporary China: a critical review of the literature over 15 years. Crime, Law and Social Change, 50, 149–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Zhang, L., & Messner, S. F. (1995). Family deviance and delinquency in China. Criminology, 33(3), 359–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations