The nurture argument

The nurture argument suggests that factors in society and the environment people grow up in, such as poverty, family, peer pressure, use of alcohol/drugs etc, will make some people more likely to commit crime.


Although not the first to argue that environment affects the chances of committing crime, in the 1950s American criminologist Robert Merton argued that where people are denied the opportunity to achieve success in life in the traditional way (work hard, good education, good jobs) some may turn to crime as an alternative means of getting what they need and want.

Further, as societies such as America are clearly unequal in terms of rich and poor, Merton argued that those in the poorest groups with the least opportunities would be the most likely to commit crime.

Family relationships

Studies of offenders by criminal psychologists have shown that many criminals have experienced deprivation in childhood.

These studies have highlighted that if a child is brought up in a family where there is 'poor parenting' – children unsupervised, parents not spending time with children – or where the parents have problems in their own lives – alcohol dependency or family break-up/divorce – then that child is far more likely to be involved in crime as they become older. This does not mean every child who experiences these problems growing up will become involved in crime.

Of most interest are studies that look at children's relationships with their parents, especially the mother, in the first few years of life. It is argued that this period in a child's development is crucial in properly nurturing them. If the child is loved and cared for properly, the child is more likely to have positive self-esteem and to have good relations with others.

In all likelihood they will go on to do well in later life. However, if the relationship between the parents and the child is poor, ie the child gets little in the way of love or attention, the child is unlikely to care as much about their own wellbeing, be able to get on well with others or respect other people and their property. Some psychologists argue children who have these experiences are far more likely to develop deviant or criminal behaviour.