In 1991, Gottfredson et al. conducted a study that combined two types of social disorganization research, (1) distribution of crime rates among social areas and (2) distribution of crime among individuals, into one study. They studied social area influences on the delinquent behavior of 3,729 adolescents who were clustered within diverse social areas (census block groups). The results showed that the level of affluence and education of the population of an area had no effect on social bonding or association with deviant peers and implied that social area and community characteristics have only a small effect on individual delinquent behavior. The study found that social areas have only a small effect on individual delinquent behavior so it provided little support for social disorganization theory.
When people attempt to deal with social disorganization, it can cause strain. Merton first mentioned strain as a part of his theory of anomie where he found the discrepancy between aspirations and expectations causes strain on lower classes to use whatever means available to reach their goals, be they legal or illegal. Agnew used this concept of strain to develop a general strain theory, which states that strain comes from adaptation to stress. General strain theory posits that stress can come from many sources, such as from the blockage of pain-avoidance behavior, not just from discrepancies between aspirations and expectations. Agnew identified three types of deviance-producing strain: failure to achieve positively valued goals, removal of positively valued stimuli, and confrontation with negative stimuli. Several empirical studies have tested general strain theory.
A 1992 study by Agnew and White was the first test of general strain theory and it found support for the theory. The study used data from a sample of 1,380 New Jersey adolescents to test the effects of the theory on delinquency and drug use, using the measures of social control, differential association, and strain. It found that strain interacts with variables, such as interactions with delinquent friends and self-efficacy, and has a substantial effect on delinquency and a moderate effect on drug use.