Social Class and the Inequality of Deviance

Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash

Crime can vary in skill and violence, and this is exemplified when comparing white-collar crime and underprivileged crime. White-collar crime, also known as high-status or privileged crime, occurs when the upper middle class and upper-class people violate the law through corporate, occupational, and government deviance. Blue-collar crime, also known as underprivileged or low-status crime, tends to be committed by members of lower socioeconomic classes through theft, burglary, and organized crime.

According to the researchers Thio, Taylor, and Schwartz, white-collar crime involves more lying and cheating that results in environmental and health violations, false advertising, tax evasion, workplace theft, and unbalanced wages to employees because loopholes, ambiguous laws, and political corruption condone the behaviors. Thio, Taylor, and Schwartz also state that blue-collar crime increases the likelihood of armed robberies, an “honest” living made by robbing, and petty theft among the young since poverty and an addiction to drugs influence the need for “quick” money.

Those who commit underprivileged crime are more likely to be part of a subculture — more so, a counterculture — where a counterculture includes beliefs and behaviors that are the complete opposite of the dominant societal culture while the majority of a subculture’s behavior still relates to the dominant culture.

White-collar crime is different than blue-collar crime because the social consequences of white-collar crime are injustice and corruption while the consequences of blue-collar crime are continuing cycles of poverty and violence within blue-collar communities.

White-Collar Crime and Crimes of Trust

According to the research by Menard, Morris, Gerber, and Covey, crimes of trust are related to white-collar crime which includes “occupational (embezzlement, employee theft), avocational (credit card fraud, personal check fraud, forgery, filing fraudulent insurance claims, tax evasion) and contrepreneurial (selling worthless goods — cheating someone).” Most of these crimes are more likely to be committed by a middle age individual than one that is a young adult or elderly.

Crimes of trust do not happen as regularly as other forms of crime, and criminals from lower socioeconomic classes are just as capable of committing a crime of trust as much as criminals of a more affluent background. A real-life example of a white-collar crime is when a man was convicted of the tax evasion of over $800,000 by using business checks for personal expenses.

His act of financial fraud may result in a 5-year imprisonment and a $100,000 fine as punishment. This type of crime impacts society because people may come to believe that wealthier individuals are above the law, and it breeds negative sentiments that result in class warfare.

Blue-Collar Crime and Wage Theft

The article, “Wage Theft as a Neglected Public Health Problem: An Overview and Case Study From San Francisco’s Chinatown District,” explains that many high-status and low-status businesses pay their employees below the minimum, withhold breaks, and pay late. Wage theft may cause enough frustration to inspire employees to steal merchandise out of necessity or retaliation — a white-collar crime can increase blue-collar crime in this scenario by trickling down negative behavior.

Poverty and other factors of social stress are associated with higher rates of criminal activity. While this crime is more likely to be committed by members of the middle and upper classes, it keeps the lower classes in poverty which fosters more aggressive crimes and cycles of violence among those communities. A real-life example of a blue-collar crime is how a man threatened an elderly person with a knife before stealing the victim’s vehicle.

The suspect in the violent robbery may be punished with 15 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. This type of crime impacts society because low-status crime is connected to violence which is more emotionally and psychologically taxing on the relatives and communities of the criminal and victims.

Self-Control and Cybercrime

The researchers Leeper Piquero and Moffitt state that childhood behavior patterns show that a lack of self-control can indicate how likely that child, as an adult, will take part in occupational crime. This is more accurate with males than females, and the relation may be due to motherhood including becoming a mother before the age of 21. While white-collar criminals may lack some level of self-control, the connection is more profound with blue-collar crime because of a lower educational achievement, deviance since youth, and unfulfillment with a low-skill job.

A real-life example of a crime that could be committed by either white-collar or blue-collar crime is how Tennessee natives have become victims of cybercrime which has resulted in a loss of over $28 million dollars, last year, through “non-payment/non-delivery, extortion, and personal data breach.” Internet crime varies in skill level and expertise since some criminals may be uneducated foreigners from an underdeveloped country while others may have a post-secondary education in a developed country.

This type of crime impacts society because people can come to fear every one of their actions on the internet. One mistake can result in the loss of their whole life savings within seconds or minutes, and there may be no way to trace the criminal so that justice can be carried out.

Comparison of Carjacking and Tax Evasion

The stereotypical example of white-collar vs. blue-collar crime takes place with when comparing the “Harrisburg Man Charged with Knifepoint Carjacking in Lancaster, PA” and “North Suburban Businessman Guilty of Evading More Than $800,000 in State and Federal Income Taxes.” The difference between both men, besides the likely difference in socioeconomic class, is how one chose to add violence to their behavior while the more affluent criminal avoided aggression.

High-status criminals don’t need to be violent since any flaws in the law or regulations only necessitate the manipulation of numbers on a system. Low-status crime needs to be more physical, overall, such as vehicle theft.

It may have been unintentional, but the statements made by the an FBI agent in the carjacking vs. the mention of the tax fraud criminal’s plea agreement shows more empathy toward the white-collar criminal: the agent states that “no one, let alone elderly folks, should have to worry about being victimized by an armed robber or carjacker” while the other criminal has admitted that he “did this so that he could obtain health insurance for his family.” Most importantly of all, the difference in the punishment was typical.

Personally, I do find the idea of violently threatening an elderly person to be vile compared to tax fraud since it could result in a horrific injury or death. I am frustrated with white-collar criminals receiving lesser punishments in contrast to nonviolent blue-collar criminals — of course, in my comparison, the blue-collar criminal was violent.

It may be that the focus is placed on the loss of reputation and respect for high-status criminals while low-status criminals may seem as too aggressive to learn, but both types of criminals may still repeat a similar crime in the future.


All of the research that I found seems to show that every socioeconomic class commits crimes that are specific to that class, but some crimes can cross over. The majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by members of lower-status groups. Poverty breeds more antisocial and hostile traits that result in behavior that shows a lack of self-control which can be expressed in the work environment.

White-collar crime can increase blue-collar crime by creating more poverty and resentment. Violent theft, without a death, may cost the criminal more than that of a nonviolent theft, which I believe is fair. I agree with longer prison sentences for the more violent offenders, but I question the difference in the fines in the cases I mentioned since I view any massive financial fraud or theft as necessitating the repayment of the amount stolen plus a fine.

High-status criminals do not face the same levels of punishment that low-status criminals are prone to by avoiding aggressive behaviors and being able to afford more experienced lawyers while low-status criminals may be appointed a public defender that may be inexperienced in comparison. Most criminals are punished, but wealth can influence the level of punishment that is given.

In the carjacking case that was mentioned, the elderly person may live in a peaceful community and may have had a healthy upbringing while the criminal is just one of many that come from broken homes in poverty-stricken communities filled with violence.

In a way, I blame a dominant culture obsessed with the affluence of trends, because rather than focusing on basic needs and being content with any that are met, people may feel they need much more without ever feeling satisfied.

I think if adolescents can be blamed for causing other adolescents to commit suicide, through cyberbullying, then these white-collar criminals should be found guilty for every suicide that was inspired. Every victim should be counted when considering the verdict, and there should be a minimum sentence for large financial crimes. I believe these situations are the proper place to sue for emotional distress since many victims may lose some or all of their savings. I have wondered about what life is like for a wealthier person in prison, but comfort should be no different than it is for anyone else in there.

A personal acquaintance of mine who finished law school much later in life mentioned that the rules and focus are about who has the better argument, and legitimate justice and ethics are not the primary goals. That is painful to hear.



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Jacquline Ard (Ontiveros)

Jacquline Ard (Ontiveros)

“It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.” ~Erasmus |