General strain theory suggests that delinquent behavior enables adolescents to cope with socio-emotional problems generated by negative social relations. A 1996 study by Brezina used a factor analysis of the Youth in Transition survey of 2,213 national male public high school students to explore the ways that delinquency may enable adolescents to cope with the strain, and it effectiveness in doing so. The results supported general strain theory, indicating that strain leads to a range of negative affective states, including feelings of anger and depression, and that delinquency represents a partially successful adaptation to strain.
Most etiological studies of the social structural theories of criminal behavior are unidirectional in structure. They look at crime as being caused by a variety of social factors but ignore the reciprocal influence of crime on those factors. A 1984 study by Thornberry and Christenson used a linear panel model to analyze data from the Philadelphia birth cohort of 1945 to assess the theoretical and empirical consequences associated with unidirectional explanations of criminal involvement as related to unemployment. The results showed that crime did not appear to be a simple product of unemployment. Instead, crime and unemployment appeared to influence each other mutually over time. The study suggested that criminal behavior should no longer be viewed as an outcome of social processes, but should be viewed as an integral part of the processes where each influences the other over a person’s life span.
Some studies have been critical of social structural theories. Tittle and Villemez found that social class is almost irrelevant for criminality, but they reserved judgment about the general import of social class. Tittle analyzed available data and found that numerous theories that were developed on the assumption of class differences appear to be based on false premises. They found two problems with studies that attempt to demonstrate that the social status of individuals is inversely related to criminal behavior. First, methodological limitations undermine the generalizability, applicability, or validity of much of the data. Second, the data is less voluminous and comprehensive than is usually thought.