An Empirical Test of Institutional Anomie Theory

Brian Buchner, University of Missouri - St. Louis
Eric Baumer, University of Missouri - St. Louis

ABSTRACT
Messner and Rosenfeld's (1997) institutional anomie theory of crime has greatly contributed to the understanding of the complex relationship between social institutions and crime. In addition, Chamlin and Cochran (1995), Messner and Rosenfeld (1997b), and Savolainen (2000) have found significant support for the institutional anomie perspective. However, past measures of both the cultural and structural components of the theory have been incomplete. This article provides a comprehensive test of Messner and Rosenfeld's institutional anomie theory of crime. We hypothesize that the exaggerated importance of monetary success directly increases instrumental crime rates and indirectly increases instrumental crime rates through the devaluation of non-economic institutions. We also hypothesize that commitment to legitimate means to obtain wealth and material goods varies inversely with instrumental crime rates as well as moderating the effect of exaggerated importance of monetary success on instrumental crime rates. We use aggregated data from a nationally representative sample of geographic areas to measure three major latent constructs of institutional anomie theory: the devaluation of non-economic institutions, the strength of non-economic institutions relative to the economy, and the participation and involvement in non-economic institutional roles.

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Updated 05/20/2006