Victimization, Crime Propensity, and Deviance: A Multinational Test of General Strain Theory

Date01 November 2019
Published date01 November 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2019, Vol. 35(4) 410 –430
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986219870941
Victimization, Crime
Propensity, and Deviance:
A Multinational Test of
General Strain Theory
Marco Teijón-Alcalá1,2
and Christopher Birkbeck1
General Strain Theory (GST) identifies victimization as one of the strains most
strongly related to crime which, like other sources of strain, is moderated by
individual and social factors. Recently, Agnew extended the theorization of coping
strategies by proposing that the effects of strain on deviance are conditioned
by individual and social factors in combination, rather than singly, which he
labeled crime propensity. Tests of the propensity hypothesis have so far yielded
mixed results, highlighting the value of additional studies. Whereas previous
tests have focused on single countries, either in North America or Asia, we test
the propensity hypothesis using data on adolescents in 25 countries collected
through the International Self-Report Delinquency Study (ISRD3; n = 57,760).
A series of ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions show that the relationship
between victimization and delinquency/substance use is conditioned by the effects
of individuals’ crime propensity, thereby supporting the recent extension to GST.
general strain theory, victimization, crime propensity, ISRD3
1University of Salford, Manchester, UK
2Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Spain
Corresponding Author:
Marco Teijón-Alcalá, Departamento de Derecho Penal y Criminología, Universidad Nacional de
Educación a Distancia, Calle Obispo Trejo, 2, Madrid 28040, Spain.
870941CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219870941Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeTeijón-Alcalá et al.
Teijón-Alcalá et al. 411
Even though it may be treated by popular opinion and the law as an incidental irony,
criminal behavior subsequent to being victimized has been amply demonstrated in
qualitative studies of offenders (e.g., Lockwood, 1997; Luckenbill, 1977; Manasse &
Ganem, 2009). For its part, quantitative criminology has revealed the “overlap” between
victimization and offending through surveys which show that some individuals report
both types of experience during the recent past (Jennings, Piquero, & Reingle, 2012;
Posick, 2013; Schreck, Stewart, & Osgood, 2008). The most conservative reading of
such results treats the overlap simply as co-occurrence and seeks the causes of this
phenomenon in a common underlying factor such as “exposure” to social environments
that propitiate both offending and victimization (e.g., Osgood, Wilson, O’Malley,
Bachman, & Johnston, 1996) or the personality trait of low self-control (e.g., Higgins,
Jennings, Tewksbury, & Gibson, 2009). But there are two theories in criminology—
Agnew’s (1992) General Strain Theory (GST) and Wikström’s (2010) Situational
Action Theory (SAT)—which offer a causal link between prior victimization and sub-
sequent offending. According to GST, victimization is a “noxious stimulus” (Agnew,
1992, p. 58) which causes strain in the individual and will, with certain coping strate-
gies, lead to criminal behavior as a reaction to that strain. In SAT, victimization repre-
sents a source of provocation which, depending upon the characteristics of the person
and the setting, can lead to crime as an immediate response. These theories are similar
in positing at least some crime as a response to external frictions or provocations and in
invoking crime propensity as a key component of the causal process. They differ,
among other things, in their center of attention (the person in GST, situations and set-
tings in SAT) and in their conception of crime propensity (multifactorial in GST, moral-
ity and self-control in SAT). In this article, we focus on GST, although SAT provides a
useful comparator and makes a brief reappearance in our discussion and conclusion.
Although much work has tested GST in relation to varied sources of strain and
largely found support for its main propositions (Agnew, 2001), the variables hypoth-
esized as conditioning the link between strain and crime have received only mixed
support in empirical studies (Agnew, 2013). This led Agnew (2013) to propose an
extension to GST which specified that conditioning variables only play that role when
considered in combination rather than singly. However, tests of this extension—most
of them including victimization as a source of strain—have also produced mixed
results, thereby indicating the need for additional work. In this article, we present a
new test of the extension using data from a large multinational sample. We begin with
a brief overview of GST and its main concepts and propositions. We then review the
prior tests of the extension to GST, noting the varied study designs and mixed results.
Following this, we describe the dataset and present our analysis.
GST and the Path From Victimization to Offending
GST has been amply developed and discussed within criminology and the reader is
referred to Agnew’s (1992, 2001, 2007, 2013) key publications for a full appreciation

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