Cohen, like Merton, argues tha delinquency is caused by a strain between cultural goals and the institutional means of achieving them. He suggests that young people want status, respect and to feel valued.
Middle-class youths usually attain these things from their parents, teachers and peers as they achieve educational success.
Cohen argues that working class boys are denied status at school, as their parents have failed to equip them with the skills they need. Therefore, these boys are placed at the bottom sets, and consquently are unable to acquire knowledge and status enjoyed by students in the higher sets. Such boys may leave school with few or no qualifications and then work in low-paid jobs or are unemployed. In this sense, they are denied status by wider society.
Cohen suggests that these experiences result in low self-esteem, and feel isolated. They experience a form of 'anomie' called status frustration, and respond by forming gangs or subcultures.
Willis concludes that the working class youths in Cohen's study of working-class under achievement did not share the same definition of status as middle class boys. They defined educational failure as 'success' because qualifications were not necessary for the types of factory jobs they wanted. Most working class boys conform at school despite educational failure. Cohen ignores female delinquency. He…