Age and the Life Course

ageing is socially constructed, to an extent, shaped by social norms, the age structure and generation experiences.

Ageing is a universal biological fact of life: everyone goes through physical transformations as they age: from conception to birth followed by a period of physical and mental maturation during childhood, puberty and adulthood, and finally physical decline leading towards eventual death.

While biological age and ageing are obviously linked to both physical and psychological development sociologists argue that age and ageing cannot be fully understood without looking at their social contexts: the process of ageing and the normal ‘stages of life’ which are associated with different ages vary enormously historically and across societies, and so many aspects of age are a social construction.

Norms surrounding childhood in Britain have, for example, changed drastically over the last 200 years. In the early 19th century it was regarded as acceptable for young people to do paid work, meaning that people as young as 12 were already taking on adult roles. Today people are legally required to be in school until at least 16 and most won’t take on full adult working responsibilities until finishing tertiary (university) education at 21 or 22 years of age.

Attitudes towards older people vary across cultures too: in China and Japan elderly people are treated with respect, regarded as having wisdom and worth listening to and seeking advice from. In Western European societies older people are generally seen as non-productive, dependent and out-of-touch, and the very elderly are often hidden away in care-homes, forgotten about by society.

Hence to an extent age and the life course are socially constructed, but we have to also recognise the role that biological or physical ageing plays too!

Factors affecting the experience of ageing

There are at least three broad factors which affect the experience of ageing:

  1. Biology and the physical ageing process
  2. The society we live in and the way society interprets the ageing process (and socially constructs age)
  3. The age structure of a society
  4. The historical period into which we are born (our age cohort or generation). 

Biology and ageing 

Although sociologists prefer to focus on how things such as ‘age’ and ‘childhood’ are not purely biological but rather socially constructed, we can’t deny that biological age has an affect on the experience of ageing. 

As mentioned above human beings start off totally dependent on older human beings and as they get very old their physical and mental capacities deteriorate. 

Society and the social construction of age 

Most societies have norms surrounding what people of different biological ages should be doing at those ages, and these norms are often codified into laws. For example, people aged below 5 in Britain don’t have to go to school, people aged 5-16 MUST go to school (or be home-school), and from 16-18 laws change to allow the transition to adulthood at 18. 

It is well established within sociology that childhood is socially constructed, but also at the other end of the life course the pension age is too because it is society that determines that (for younger people today) this starts at age 68, it is currently (for people retiring today) set at 65.

Most people would also recognise that there is a typical ‘life course’ in their society, or a broad set of norms which outline what it is socially acceptable for people to be doing at certain ages between childhood and retirement. For example in Britain we broadly have a transition from childhood (dependency) to adolescence (becoming adult 16-21) to early adulthood (21-35 dating/ renting/ finding career) to midlife (35-65: established career, home owning, children) to retirement (65+ children left home, stopped working).

Granted, the boundaries above do vary a lot, and MANY people diverge from this model, but the life course above is still possibly recognisable as ‘typical’.  

Age Structure 

The age structure of a population refers to the relative size of age groups within a population at any one point in time. 

The age structure is affected by the fertility rate, life expectancy and migration. 

Age structures vary enormously between countries. In Germany, for example, which has a low birth rate and high life expectancy there are relatively few young people, a high proportion of 50-60 year olds and then numbers gradually tail off after 60, but still large numbers of people aged 70 plus. 

In Nigeria, there are many more younger people and relatively fewer people aged over 70 because of higher birth rates but lower life expectancy. 

The typical age someone can be expected to live can have a huge impact on the social construction of age, especially the retirement age. 

Age Cohort or Generation 

A group born in the same historical period is known as an age cohort, and they will grow up and age experiencing similar historical events which will influence their experience of ageing. 

There are no objective dividing lines between one age cohort and the next, it depends how the observer decides how to split the ages up: in schools we refer to each year as cohorts, but other research models may look at the experiences of people born in the same decades, grouping all people born in the 1970s together, all born in the 1980s together and so on. 

One of the best known popular versions of this is the distinction between Baby Boomers, Generation X and so on…

  • Baby Boomers: 1946 – 1964
  • Generation X: 1965 – 1980
  • Millennials: 1981 – 1996
  • Generation Z: 1997 – 2012
  • Generation Alpha 2013 – present day. 

You’ll have to decide for yourself whether the groupings above make sense, but the general idea is that the historical period you are born in will shape how you experience the life course. 

One way this seems to be true is that Baby Boomers had an easier time buying their houses when they were cheap and are able to retire comfortably, Generation Z face much more job insecurity, global warming as more of a threat, unaffordable housing and a later retirement age (yes kids, life is getting worse, sorry!). 

Life course and life cycle 

Life Cycle refers to the stages of life which people usually pass through as they age, from birth to death. 

There are different models of ‘life cycles’ but one example, applicable to the United Kingdom, is from Bradley (1996) who Identified five stages of life: 

  • Childhood – when children are in a state of innocence and dependency, protected by their parents and (in the UK today) and by law. This is the stage of life when children are learning norms, values, skills and knowledge to prepare them for adulthood, but are free from many of the responsibilities of adulthood. 
  • Adolescence – a time of transition from childhood to adulthood which takes place from puberty onwards. During this time adolescents are given more freedoms and responsibilities as they get older. This is also typically regarded as a time of experimentation, exploration of identities, and maybe deviance and rebellion. 
  • Young adulthood – the period from leaving the adult home to full adulthood, so possibly from early 20s to mid 30s: the time when young adults find their first jobs, and find and move in with their long term partners. 
  • Mid-life – There is disagreement over when mid-life begins: somewhere between 35 and 50. This is the ‘churn’ of adulthood – full time careers, dependent and then maybe independent children. 
  • Old age – Formal retirement age, when you can claim your pension, is 65 in the UK, so that is the formal ‘marker’ of old age. In Britain it is the end of work which marks this point in life. 

Jane Plicher argues that the concept of the life cycle is problematic because it implies that there are set stages through which all people pass. 

In reality, however, there is no universal life cycle through which everyone passes, and thus Plicher prefers to use the term Life Course. 

The concept of the life course recognises that in most societies there is a ‘socially defined timetable’ of behaviours generally seen as normal and acceptable for people of certain ages in that specific society, but also that people may experience their own individual life course in very different ways.

You can probably already see the above scheme of five stages is problematic because there is so much blurring between the boundaries of the stages, especially in the boundary between young adulthood and mid-life as there is so much variation in when people get established in their careers and have children. 

There is also considerable variation in experience within each age-group. For example, many people retire well before 65 and some continue working into their 70s. 

Ethnicity and gender can also affect people’s experiences as they age, another reason why ‘life course’ is preferable to ‘life cycle’. 

The De-standardisation of the Life Course 

Postmodernists argue that there is so much variation in the ‘Life Course’ today that it no longer makes any sense to talk of a life course anymore. 

Not only is there huge variation in the age at which people transition from adolescence to a state of independence in young adulthood, the age at which people have their first children spans 20 years, and many choose not to have children at all. Similarly it is hard to see when young adulthood becomes mid-life: many would argue 50 is still relatively young, and incredible diversity within all of these age brackets and especially in the way people experience retirement. 

Maybe there is no longer a social norm of the life course, just a series of individual choices around how to age? 


This material is mainly relevant to the culture and identity module within A-level sociology, but also partly relevant to families and households.

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Age Pyramid: Germany:

Age Pyramid: Nigeria:


Are there really fewer covid-19 cases in poorer countries?

According to this New York Times heat map, Covid-19 cases seem to be much more prevalent per capita in developed countries compared to developing countries…

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The counts are especially high in America, Europe and South America doesn’t fair too well either.

But the count per capita is much lower in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Analysis from Brookings (source) shows the contrast much more starkly – People in developing countries make up 50% of the world’s population but account for only 2% of covid deaths.

The infographic below shows how many people die from covid (the circle) compared to the other main causes of death – if you look at the left hand side, they are generally poorer countries, on the right, generally richer countries…

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Are there really fewer covid cases and deaths in poorer countries?

Brookings suggests the different may not be as great as the statistics above suggest. Because….

  1. The different age profiles – Covid-19 affects the very old more severely – especially the over 70s – and to put it bluntly there are hardly any people aged over 70 in poorer countries, because of the lower life expectancy, whereas in developed countries have a more older age profile.
  2. Differences in detecting and reporting covid-19 as a cause of death. In developed countries we have much better detection capacity and it’s possible that Covid has been mis-recorded as a cause of death when really, because of co-morbidity, something else was really the cause. While in the developing world people may well be dying of (or with) covid-19 but it hasn’t been traced.

in short, remember that these covid-19 death statistics are a total social construction.

However, the statics may lack validity, but government responses the world over have been severe – and this social reaction has had very real negative consequences in rich and poor countries alike!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This material is mainly relevant to the global development health topic, but there are also some nice links here to the problems with official statistics.

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What is Crime?

What is crime? An introduction to crime and deviance for A-level sociology

Crime, or behaviour which goes against the criminal law, covers a very wide variety of acts, from the relatively trivial, such as possessing class C drugs to the very serious such as murder.

A definition of Crime

A simple, starting point definition of crime is:

Crime – the term used to describe behaviour which is against the criminal law. Crime is law-breaking behaviour.

What counts as criminal behaviour thus varies depending on what the laws of a society deem to be illegal. What is legal in one country may not be legal in another.

(A closely related concept to crime is deviance which is rule-breaking behaviour which fails to conform to the norms and expectations of a particular society or social group.  Criminal behaviour is usually also deviant behaviour, but there is a lot of deviant behaviour which isn’t criminal.

This post focuses on the questions of what crime and criminal behaviour are (for deviance please see this post). It has been written primarily as an introduction to the Crime and Deviance module for A-level sociology students.

The social Construction of Crime

Newburn (2007) suggests that crime is basically a label that is attached to certain forms of behaviour which are prohibited by the state (government), and have some legal penalty against them. While crime therefore seems easy to define, as the law states what a criminal act is, there is no act that is criminal in itself. An act only becomes a crime when agents of the state label that act as criminal in a particular context. For example, killing someone with a knife during a fight outside a pub in the UK is a criminal offence, but killing an armed combatant during wartime with a knife is not.

Criminal law also varies from country to country, and criminal law changes over time within one country, which reinforces the idea that there is no such thing as an inherently criminal act.

If we examine how the law differs from country to country, it shows us the extent to which ‘crime is socially constructed’.

One example is the variations in the laws surrounding homosexuality – which is punishable by death in 12 countries, but in the United Kingdom and many other European countries it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.

A second example is that women in Saudi Arabia are still effectively banned from wearing clothes which ‘show off their beauty’ (according to this article in The Week, January 2020), however this is open to interpretation, and some resistance from women flouting the rules, as the case from 2017 below demonstrates…

Discussion Question: why might the law (and thus the nature and extent of ‘crime’) vary so much across countries?

The Law in England and Wales

While you don’t need an in-depth understanding of the legal system it is useful to know something about it because it will help you understand where the law comes from and thus how the law changes, and consequently how crime changes over time.

There are two main sources of law in England and Wales

  • Common Law, which evolves through decisions made by judges at trials, which set precedents for future trials.
  • Statute Law, which comes about through an Act of Parliament – typically  through bills proposed by members of parliament which are debated and modified, often over several months, which then become acts of law.

The Gradual Evolution of Common Law in England and Wales

English criminal law derives its main principles from common law. The main elements of a crime are the actus reus (doing something which is criminally prohibited) and a mens rea (having the requisite criminal state of mind, usually intention or recklessness). A prosecutor must show that a person has caused the offensive conduct, or that the culprit had some pre-existing duty to take steps to avoid a criminal consequence. The types of different crimes range from those well-known ones like manslaughter, murder, theft and robbery to a plethora of regulatory and statutory offences. Today it is estimated that in the UK, there are 3,500 classes of criminal offence.

Parliamentary Acts and Changes to Law in England and Wales

Over the last two centuries, many new laws have been introduced through over 4500 Acts of Parliament which have responded to various social changes, one of the most recent being the ‘Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 which made it illegal to supply a number of so called ‘legal highs’.

One single act can also make a number of behaviors illegal – such as with the 2010 equality act, which made it illegal for employers to discriminate against Transgender people and pregnant women.

NB – The fact that there are so many acts of Parliament demonstrates the extent to which crime is socially constructed. Since 2010 there have been more than 200 new Acts of Parliament.

The gradual evolution of the law and thus crime can be illustrated by some examples outline in this blog post: the social construction of crime.

The main categories of crime in England and Wales

Today, The Crown Prosecution Service recognises eleven classes of criminal offence, ranging from very serious (class A) through to Miscellaneous lesser offences (class I).

  • Class A: Homicide and related grave offences. E.g. Murder
  • Class B: Offences involving serious violence or damage, and serious drugs offences. E.g. kidnapping, armed robbery.
  • Class C: Lesser offences involving violence or damage, and less serious drugs offences – e.g. possession of firearm without certificate.
  • Class D: Sexual offences, and offences against children – e.g. sexual assault.
  • Class E: Burglary etc. – Domestic and Non-Domestic and ‘going equipped to steal’.
  • Class F- K: Theft and Fraud etc. – e.g. possession of articles for use in frauds; counterfeiting notes and coins.
  • Class H: Miscellaneous lesser offences – e.g. – Possession of Class B or C drug.
  • Class I: Offences against public justice and similar offences –e.g.  Intimidating Witnesses
  • Class J: Serious sexual offences, offences against children – e.g.  Trafficking out of UK for sexual exploitation

A quick look at a snapshot of the Crown Prosecution’s categories of offences demonstrates how crime is socially constructed – More acts become criminal as the law evolves. The table below shows how a whole raft of behaviours suddenly became ‘constructed’ as criminal following the 1998 criminal justice act, such as breaching an ASBO (ASBOs didn’t exist prior to 1998!).

The Criminal Justice System (FYI)

For those that are charged, they will either appear in Magistrates Court or the Crown Court.

Magistrates’ Courts

Virtually all criminal cases start in the Magistrates’ courts. The less serious offences are handled entirely in the magistrates’ court. Over 95% of all cases are dealt with in this way. The more serious offences are passed on to the Crown Court, to be dealt with by a judge and jury.

Magistrates mainly deal with

  • Summary offences. These are less serious cases, such as motoring offences and minor assaults, where the defendant is not entitled to trial by jury and
  • Either-way offences. As the name implies, these can be dealt with either by the magistrates or before a judge and jury at the Crown Court. Such offences include theft and handling stolen goods. A suspect can insist on their right to trial in the Crown Court. Similarly, magistrates can decide that a case is sufficiently serious that it should be dealt with in the Crown Court – which can impose tougher punishments.

If a case is to be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court, the defendant will have to enter a plea.If they plead guilty or if they are later found to be guilty, the magistrates can impose a sentence of up to six months imprisonment or a fine of up to £5,000. If the defendant is found not guilty (if they are ‘acquitted’), they are judged innocent in the eyes of the law and should be free to go – provided there are no other cases against them outstanding.

Crown Court

Because of the seriousness of offences tried in the Crown Court, these trials take place with a judge and jury. The Crown Court deals with Indictable-only offences such as murder, manslaughter, rape and robbery or less serious offences that are too complex for the magistrate’s court

If the defendant is found not guilty, they are discharged and no conviction is recorded against their name. If the defendant is found guilty, they are sentenced and the courts can impose four levels of sentence, depending on the seriousness of the offence:

  • Discharges
  • Fines
  • Community sentences
  • Imprisonment


When deciding what sentence to impose, magistrates and judges have to take account of both the facts of the case and the circumstances of the offender.

A sentence needs to:

  • Protect the public;
  • Punish the offender fairly and appropriately;
  • Encourage the offender to make amends for their crime;
  • Contribute to crime reduction by stopping reoffending.

Good videos showing the social construction of childhood

Below are some relatively recent examples of documentary video evidence which demonstrate how attitudes to children vary across cultures, supporting the view that childhood is socially constructed.

This post has been written primarily for students studying the families and households module within A-level sociology

Child Brides

In India, teenage girls aged 14-15 are sometimes pressurized into marrying by their family against their will, often due to financial reasons. The video below explores this, but looks at how teenage female victims try to avoid getting married when they do not want to…

In the less Developed United States of America, it appears that the agents of the State are sometimes less willing to protect child victims of rape and coerced marriage than they are in India.

The video below documents a girl whose family coerced her into getting married after she was raped and made pregnant by her 24 year old ‘boyfriend’. 

For reasons that I don’t fully understand and aren’t really explored in the video, the 24 year old child rapist wasn’t prosecuted.

Instead he was legally allowed to marry his by then 15 year old pregnant ‘girlfriend’, with further violent abuse continuing after the marriage.

As I say, I don’t understand how the State can legally sanction violence against children, but that’s life in an underdeveloped country such as America I guess!

Ritualised Violence against girls

In the Hamar Tribe in Ethiopia,

When boys reach the age of puberty they have to go through a ritual to become men. The main event in this ritual (for the boys at least) involves jumping over some cattle four times. Once a boy has done this, he is officially a man.

However, before they jump the cattle, young teenage girls beg to to be whipped with sticks by the boys about to undergo the ritual – the more they are whipped, the more ‘honour’ they bring on their families.

NB this isn’t play whipping, some of the blows these girls receive are serious, as you can see from the scars in the video still below, the whipping often opens up quite significant wounds which take time to heal, and with healing comes scaring.

Towards the end of this video you get to see an example of this ceremony – the girls are quite willing volunteers in this ritualized violence, which seems to be a normal part of childhood for girls in the Hamar Tribe.

Child slavery in West Africa

In West Africa, thousands of girls and women have been enslaved by a practice called ‘trokosi’. Girls as young as seven are given away by their family to pay for the sins of family members. They get forcibly shipped to a shrine, possibly in a foreign country, stripped of their identity, and are forced to work as ‘servants of God’.

In the documentary below, one victim of trokosi revisits her home country of Ghana to find out why this happened to her.

She was lucky enough to get out because an American negotiated her release  and became her adopted father, which kind of suggests this religion is pretty flexible!

Further examples of how childhood is socially constructed

You can probably also find videos on child labour and child soldiers, two other good examples.

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The social construction of crime

whether an act is criminal or not is determined by social processes. Crime is not a universal or objective phenomenon – it varies over time and across societies depending on the laws which are constructed by people.

The idea that crime is socially constructed is a key idea within the sociology of crime and deviance. This means that social processes determine whether an act is legal or not. The introduction of new Acts of Parliament continually change the laws which change the nature of crime.

There are many things which were not illegal in the past which are criminal and thus illegal now.

A brief timeline of some recent changes to the law illustrate this…

1973 – Motorcycle helmets made compulsory

Before 1973 it was perfectly legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, not so from 1973.


1991 – rape within marriage made illegal.

Previous to this it was held that men could not rape women within marriage, because the marriage union was equivalent to consensual sex at any time. It was not until the 2003 Sexual Offences Act that rape within marriage became illegal.

Source: The Week

1994 – informally organised Raves made illegal (sort of)

In 1994 The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 clamped down on anti-social behaviour. It effectively gave the police new powers to break up raves, or any informally arranged gathering of 100 or more people listening to music involving a series of repetitive beats.

The 1992 Castlemorton rave, the biggest ever informally organised rave in British history, is one of the events that led to the establishment of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Anti-Social Behaviour Act…

NB the act didn’t technically make it illegal for you and your mates to organise a rave, it just makes it easier for the police to break them up, slap an injunction order on you, and then arrest you the next time for breaking the injunction order.

This notorious act also made it easier for the police to break up road protests, move on travellers and arrest hunt saboteurs.


2007 – the smoking ban

The 2007 ban made it illegal to smoke indoors in public places such as public transport and bars.

You used to be able to smoke in pubs, as the video below illustrates…

Besides being some seriously excellent music, there’s plenty of people smoking away in the background! Keep in mind that this was on mainstream TV in 1982 at Christmas, when smoking in public was perfectly usual!

I’d throughly taking a study break for 40 minutes and watching the whole thing, but if you’re ‘on a study vibe’ fast forward to around 4 minutes and the second song ‘London Girls’ – you can clearly see the cigarette smoke wafting behind Chas, or it might be Dave. (I love them, but I’m not sure which is which!)

NB ‘London Girls’ is also a lesson in gender norms at the time. Things have ‘progressed’ there a bit too you might say!

2016 – The Psychoactive Substance Act

In 2016 the  the psychoactive substance act made the selling of ‘Spice’ and other previously ‘legal highs’ illegal.

Acts restricting (or allowing) the use of psychoactive substances are useful examples in themselves to illustrate how ‘crime’ is socially constructed. While the UK has been toughening up its drug laws increasing numbers of states in America have been making the growing and sale of cannabis legal.

For more info on the history behind drug legalisations see this link –

Drug timeline UK

2020 – parents to be banned from smacking children in Wales (probably )

Smacking your children isn’t illegal in England, at least as long as you don’t leave any physical signs of bruising on them, but there is currently an act going through the Welsh parliament that aims to ban the physical punishment of children by parents outright. It looks set to pass at some point in near future.

2020 – Coronavirus: The Lockdown Laws

There are currently (November 2020) three main lockdown laws which apply nationally in the UK:

  • Gathering restrictions – ‘the rule of six’ prevents people from gathering in groups of more than 6.
  • Face mask rules – people must wear a face covering on public transport and when going into shops.
  • Business restrictions – pubs and restaurants have restricted opening hours, night clubs must remain closed.

The Lockdown laws are one of the best illustrations of the social construction of crime – they came into effect suddenly in Spring 2020 and are still under constant review. More over there are also locally applied restrictions, so the laws vary from area to area!

You can find out more by visiting this Commons Library site.

Putting it all together…

So in 1972 you could have drunk a couple of pints in the pub while smoking (in the pub), organised an attended a quick Rave with your mates with all of you high on Spice (or whatever so called ‘legal highs’ existed in 1972), ridden back home on your bike without your helmet on (assuming you were within the drink driving limits) and then forced yourself on your wife without her explicit consent, and non of that would have been illegal, thus you would have committed no crime.

Act out the same scenario today and you’d be breaking multiple laws and looking at a lengthy jail term.

NB this post makes no judgement about the morality of any of the above acts or laws, it’s merely to highlight the extent to which crime is socially constructed.


The context dependency of deviance is a useful concept to get students thinking about early on in the Crime and Deviance module.

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Why has Police Recorded Crime Doubled in Three Years?

The number of violent crimes and sex offences recorded by police in England and Wales have more than doubled in the last four years.


This is an excellent article by the BBC summarising this trend, with a pretty shocking embedded video in which reporters witness two serious crimes: one ‘moped mugging’ and another just ‘regular’ attempted mugging in a park.

The latest police figures for the 12 months to September from 44 forces show:

  • 68,968 robbery offences, up 29%
  • 138,045 sex offences, up 23%
  • 37,443 knife crime offences, up 21%
  • 1,291,405 violent crime offences, up 20%

However the ONS says higher-harm violent offences, such as knife crime occur in relatively low volumes, and also tend to be concentrated in cities and are therefore not “well-measured” by the Crime Survey.

Analysis (from the BBC)

Although there’s likely to be a dispute about the accuracy of the police crime figures because they hinge, to some extent, on the way forces log offences, how pro-active they are and the willingness of victims to come forward, they clearly demonstrate a rapidly rising caseload.

At the same time, the number of police officers has continued to fall: in the 12 months to last September, down 930 to 121,929. That combination – rising crime, declining police numbers – is creating enormous strain for forces.

Applying Perspectives to explain this increase in crime:

From Right Realist perspective, this increase crime will be a direct result of the declining police numbers, although the decline is so small, it probably doesn’t explain that much of the decrease.

From a Left Realist perspective, it could be due to increasing levels of marginalisation and relative deprivation (more likely?)

I think we can rule out postmodernism in the above cases – I don’t think (I might be wrong) that serious violent and sexual offences are done for the ‘thrill of the act’ – I’m fairly sure criminals don’t enjoy mugging people, for example.

From an Interactionist point of view, this increase in Police Recorded Crime (NB not reflected in the CSEW) is just an artefact of more people reporting crime – so there’s not necessarily a corresponding underlying increase.

What do you think the reasons are for the increase in the amount of violent crime recorded by the police in recent years?



Is the Surge in Hate Crime just due to an Increase in Reporting?

Has there been an increase in hate crime since Brexit?

The Number of hate crimes reported to the police in England and Wales between 2012-13 and 2016-17 jumped by 90%, but is this because of an actual, underlying increase in hate crime incidents (or the seriousness of incidents that would warrant reporting), or is it just because people are now more likely to report ‘hate crimes’, maybe having interpreted something as a hate crime when, in fact, it wasn’t.

There is some evidence that suggests ‘misinterpreting’ or ‘over-reporting might be the case – court convictions in 2016 were lower than in 2010.

Possible increases for the increase in reporting are as follows:

  • The authorities actively encourage it
  • incidents can be registered anonymously
  • The victim or witness to a crime only has to interpret a crime as being racially motivated (for example) for it to be classed as a hate crime.
  • No evidence is needed to back up the reporting of the hate crime to get it recorded.

So it might just be, that there has not been an increase in hate crime at all, this could just be a complete social construction.

In fact, this ‘increase’ might be harmful – in that it suggests that we are more divided than we actually are!


The Week, 16 December 2017.

BBC Article 


The Criminals in the House of Lords

Lord Bassam, Labour’s soon to be chief whip in the House of Lords has just agreed to repay £41 000 in expenses. The peer claimed a remarkable £260 000 over seven years to cover the cost of his accommodation in London, despite the fact that during that time, he commuted daily to his accommodation in London, a trip for which he claimed an additional £41 000 in travel expenses.

Elite Crime.png

It might appear that logic would dictate that one of these must be a Fraudulent claim, a fraud committed against the UK taxpayer who pays these expenses, given that you can’t do both at the same time!

However, no sanctions or prosecutions were brought against Lord Bassam, because peers of Lord Bassam do not define his actions as a Fraud, just a ‘breach of the rules’.

Imagine if this had been someone in work claiming benefits – it’s pretty much the same thing! It’s a fraud against the UK taxpayer – the state would have taken action action against such a person.

This is a great illustration not only of how crime is socially constructed, but also yet more supporting evidence for the Marxist view of crime – in this case that ‘fraud’ is only ‘fraud’ when it’s being ‘committed’ by the poor.






Lord Bassam is far from the only only criminal peer: a recent study identified 16 ‘silent’ peers who had collectively claimed about £400 000 in expenses and daily allowances, over a year in which they had made no contribution whatsoever to debate.

News Values

News values are criteria journalists used to decide whether an event is newsworthy.

News Values are general criteria such as ‘extraordinariness’, ‘negativity’ and ‘elite persons’ which journalists use to determine whether an event is newsworthy (‘worthy of inclusion in the news’).

The existence of news values is one of the reasons why many sociologists view the news as a social construction – in other words the news is not simply an unbiased reflection of the objectively most important events ‘out there’ in society; rather the news is the end result of selective processes through which gatekeepers such as owners, editors and journalists make choices about what events are important enough to be covered, and how they should be covered.

Spencer-Thomas (2008) defines News values as general guidelines or criteria that determine the worth of a news story and how much prominence it is given by newspapers or broadcast media. Brighton and Foy (2007) suggest that news values are ‘often intangible, informal, almost unconscious elements’. News values define what journalists, editors and broadcasters consider as newsworthy.

The best known list of news values was supplied by Galtung and Rouge (1970). They analysed international news across a group of newspapers in Norway in 1965 and identified a number of News Values shared by Norwegian journalists (1)

News Values

Galtung and Rouge (1970) identified several news values inlcuding:

  • Negativity
  • Threshold
  • Extraordinariness
  • Unambiguity
  • Personalisation
  • Reference to elite persons
  • Reference to elite nations.


Rare, unpredictable and surprising events have more newsworthiness than routine events.

The September 11th 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers remain probably the best example of an event that was extraordinary!

News Values September 11th
September 11 – no one saw it coming!


The more people that are affected by an event and the more dramatically their lives are impacted, then more likely an event is to be reported.

Examples of events which fit the threshold criteria include the London Riots, the War in Ukraine, the Cost of Living Crisis and large natural disasters.

News values London Riots
The London Riots.


The simpler the event, the more likely it is to be reported.

Natural disasters are good examples of events which are unambiguous. There is no complex politics which needs explaining, at least not in terms of the disaster itself.

Reference to elite persons

Events surrounding the famous and the powerful are often seen as more newsworthy. Probably the best example of this from 2022 was the death of Queen Elizabeth when there was a week of rolling news coverage about nothing really that interesting.

Had the Queen been any other old lady, her death would not have been newsworthy.

Reference to elite nations

Events in nations perceived to be ‘culturally similar’ to the United Kingdom are more likely to reported on – for example, disasters in America are more likely to be reported on than disasters in African countries.


if events can be personalised easily they are more likely to get into the news.

You will see this in the reporting of responses to natural disasters, with several reports focusing in on individual families and there is always a ‘toddler pulled from the wreckage’ story!


bad news is regarded as more newsworthy than good news.

grenfell tower fire news values
Negative events are more likely to make the news

According to Galtung and Rouge, journalists use News-Values to select-out certain events as less newsworthy than others, and they thus act as gate-keepers – they quite literally shut out certain events, and let other events into the news-agenda, thus narrowing our window on the world.

There are some contemporary critiques of the concept of News Values, but I’ll come back to those later!


This material is mainly relevant to students opting for the media module as part of second year sociology.


(1) Chapman 2106, Sociology for AQA A-Level, Collins.