Societal deviance is a term used in sociology to refer to behaviors or attitudes that are seen as violating social norms and expectations. These behaviors can range from minor infractions, such as jaywalking, to major crimes, like murder. Sociologists study how societies define acceptable behavior and why some individuals choose not to follow these standards of conduct.
Deviant behavior does not always result in criminal punishment; instead, it often results in informal sanctions such as disapproval or ridicule by peers. For example, an individual who chooses to wear clothing outside the accepted fashion norms may be ridiculed for their choice, even if there is no law against wearing those clothes. In other cases, deviant behavior may violate laws or regulations and lead to formal punishments, including fines or imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense committed.
Sociological research has shown that certain groups have higher rates of deviant behavior than others, largely due to differences in socio-economic status (SES). Those with lower SES tend to experience more strain, which leads them towards negative forms of coping, including crime and delinquency, compared to those with higher SES levels, who typically engage in less risky activities due to having access to greater resources available for problem-solving strategies. Additionally, research shows that males commit more acts of violence than females do, although this gap appears smaller when examining property offenses such as theft, where women make up almost half the population engaging in this type of activity, according to recent data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports.
Social control theory provides another way to understand societal deviance by suggesting people only conform because they fear punishment rather than internalizing social values themselves. This suggests any increase in surveillance technology could reduce crime; however, studies have found varying effects, so it's unclear whether increased security measures actually deter would-be criminals. Ultimately, sociologists continue to explore the reasons behind different types of nonconformity in order to better comprehend influences on human action and decision-making processes and help prevent further instances of societal deviation.