A Revised Strain Theory of Delinquency*
Soc Forces (1985) 64 (1): 151-167.
01 September 1985
Current strain theories argue that delinquency results from the blockage of goal-seeking behavior. Unable to achieve valued goals, individuals become frustrated and may turn to delinquency as a result. This paper points to another major source of frustration and delinquency, the blockage of pain-avoidance behavior. Adolescents are compelled to remain in certain environments, such as family and school. If these environments are painful or aversive, there is little that adolescents can do legally to escape. This blockage of pain-avoidance behavior is likely to be frustrating and may lead to illegal escape attempts or anger-based delinquency. This theory is tested using data from a national sample of adolescent boys. Data indicate that location in aversive school and family environments has a direct effect on delinquency and an indirect effect through anger. These effects hold even after social control and subcultural deviance variables are controlled. Given the weak support for traditional strain theories based on the blockage of goal-seeking behavior, these data suggest a new direction for the development of strain theory.