Social organization and instrumental crime: Assessing the empirical validity of classic and contemporary anomie theories

Eric P. Baumer, Regan Gustafson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

55 Scopus citations


This research assesses the empirical validity of the classic anomie theory articulated by Robert Merton and the important contemporary extension of his work encompassed in Messner and Rosenfeld's institutional anomie theory. Using a unique aggregate-level data set, our empirical investigation reveals that, consistent with theoretical expectations, instrumental crime rates are significantly higher in areas where both a strong commitment to monetary success goals and a weak commitment to legitimate means exist. The tendency for this "goals/means" value complex to translate into higher rates of instrumental crime is reduced in the context of higher levels of welfare assistance and more frequent socializing among families. We also find that low levels of educational and economic attainment and high levels of inequality enhance the degree to which commitment to monetary success translates into instrumental crime. Overall, the findings are supportive of some claims by classic and contemporary anomie theories, but also they point to the need for further refinement of these perspectives and additional assessments of their empirical validity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)617-663
Number of pages47
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2007


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law

Cite this