When the topic of crime and criminals come up, what do we think of? Do we think of the affluent or the poor committing crimes? How about those that are victim to these crimes? Most people think of the poor as criminals. Why is that so? Is there a connection between low socioeconomic status and crime?

The story of the brutal murders of the Clutter family, as told by Truman Capote in In Cold Blood, explores this theme. Herbert Clutter, an affluent and well known man in his town and county, was the epitome of the American dream. He and his wife owned a spacious ranch where they raised their two children, Nancy and Kenyon. He had a proper education, graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in agriculture, followed by a successful career working for Federal Farm Credit Board in Washington D.C. during the Eisenhower administration, and later becoming chairman of the Kansas Conference of Farm Organization. 

On the other hand, Richard Hitchcock and Perry Smith were underprivileged and of working class. Neither one of them got a proper education or had a solid career. Their only source of economic stability/income was theft. They also both believed that they deserved more in life, especially Dick, who was more willing to take from those of higher status, then to work on bettering himself. Focusing on Perry, we find that he comes from a poor family of six. Most of his childhood memories were of his alcoholic mother and abusive father arguing and fighting. When his parents finally decided to split for good, his mother took all three of his siblings while he was left with his dad. His dad never had a stable job, so the two of them always moved around from state to state, settling down for short periods of time only when they could find some work. 

Further analyzing lower socioeconomic status (SES) during childhood, I found that it encompasses not only income, but also level of education, financial security, and subjective perceptions of social status and social class (Violence & Socioeconomic Status). As mentioned previously, neither Dick nor Perry had much of a proper education growing up. Perry moved around a lot with his father, looking for work, and had no sense of financial security. Dick always felt jealous of people of higher social status and class, and was always willing to steal and manipulate from them in order to benefit himself (he often tricked shop owners out of money by cashing bad checks and vulnerable women out of property). Although violence affects all levels of SES, youth from lower SES backgrounds tend to have increased exposure and likelihood of suffering from detrimental future outcomes (Violence & Socioeconomic Status). This is especially true in Perry’s case, as he grew up in an abusive and split family. After growing up, lower SES has been identified as a clear risk factor contributing to arrest and punishment regardless of the race or age of the individual, and individuals from low SES backgrounds are more likely to be arrested and charged (Socioeconomic Status as a Precursor to Crime). This was the case for both Dick and Perry. They were charged and arrested with many petty crimes before ultimately committing the brutal murders of the Clutter family. 

Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York: Random House, 1966.

“Violence & Socioeconomic Status.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, Accessed 24 November 2019. www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/violence

Ultius, Ultius. “Socioeconomic Status and Crime.” Ultius, Accessed 24 November 2019. www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/socioeconomic-status-and-crime.html

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CC BY-SA 4.0 Socioeconomic Status vs Crime in America by Dorothy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

2 Comments
  1. Erica 1 month ago

    Hey Dorothy,
    This is really interesting! The majority of adults associate crimes with lower socioeconomic areas or people, which is certainly not always the case. My sister is a criminal defense attorney and it is true that it costs a lot of money to defend yourself. I would love to read more about solutions you have to fix the holes in our current system .

    Sincerely,
    Erica Strand

  2. Abbey 1 month ago

    I really like what you are saying here, it’s not fair to always associate those with a lower socioeconomic status with criminal activity because it is not often the case. But they end up getting convicted of a crime they didn’t commit because they didn’t have the money to afford a good attorney or other forms of help. I think that we should find a way to move away from the stigma that the poor are criminals. I hope to read more of what you have to say about such an important topic!

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