Sociology Index


The terms 'low class culture' and 'high class culture' and the manifestation of these terms as they appeal to their specific constituents have been debated extensively. People who have a low class culture develop and transmit to their children, a different set of cultural values and expectations. Low class culture is a barrier to their success in society. Low class culture is associated with the culture of poverty thesis. Lower social class, those at the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy; also known as the underclass, includes those at the bottom of the working class.

Low class culture theory is opposed by situational theory, which locates the genesis of poverty in economic and social structures of society rather than in the value orientations of individuals or groups. Albert Cohen suggested that there was a distinct low class culture and this helped to contribute to criminality.


Walter Millers suggested that juveniles were measured educationally to the middle class measuring rod and thus by implication the middle class was different from the lower class and upper class. Oscar Lewis coined the term "culture of poverty" to describe the lower-class culture of modern Mexico City.


Culture-of-poverty Thesis is similar to lower class culture theory, where it has been argued that the lower class have developed and transmit to their children, a different set of cultural values and expectations. It is also argued that this culture of poverty is a barrier to their success in society. The theory that certain groups and individuals tend to persist in a state of poverty because they have distinct belief, values and ways of behaving that are incompatible with economic success. Working class culture is often equated with popular culture and lower class culture.


More recently sociologists have rejected this emphasis on values and argue that structural barriers create the conditions which might generate these values and expectations. If this is so, the solution is to transform the structures and not to blame the poor. Walter Miller submits that delinquency is not rooted in the rejection of middle class values; it stems from lower class culture, which has its own value system. Gang norms are simply the adolescent expression of the lower class culture in which the boys have grown up. Social Strain theorists explain criminal behavior as a result of the frustrations suffered by lower class individuals deprived of legitimate means to reach their goals.



Cultural Theories of Crime and Delinquency
Cohen’s delinquent subculture.
According to Cohen, middle class values are different than lower class values. Middle class values stress independence, success, academic achievement, delayed gratification, control of aggression, and respect for property.


Lower class parents encourage different values in their children. In lower class families ambition and planning must give way to pressing issues of the moment. They depend more on others, and have more of a group orientation, “watching each others backs”. In school, lower class children are bombarded with the same middle class values that middle class children get in their home. However, these values seem foreign to lower class students. In addition, the values and norms they have learned in their homes actually present a barrier to success in school. The message lower class students get from school is that they are inferior.


Lower class youth are given different values in the home, that is, socialization but want middle class dream of success. School merit system is biased toward middle class values, lower class start out disadvantaged because they were not prepared with middle class values at home. Here lower class youth experience status frustration. Lower class youth start collective interaction, begin to hang out together because they don’t fit in with the mainstream of the school. Collective reaction formation, since doors are closed for them they go in the opposite direction of middle class values, they reject the system instead of feeling rejected. Lower class youth form a delinquent subculture with anti-middle class value system.


Lower Class Culture as a Generating Milieu of Gang Delinquency
Walter B. Miller. Journal of Social IssuesVolume 14, Issue 3.