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Primary and Secondary Deviance-Definitions, Examples,& Focus


Deviance refers to behavior that is not following the group’s expectations, norms, or rules. Of course, many other definitions of the term abound in sociology. There are two main types of deviance, namely primary deviance and secondary deviance.

Primary Deviance

Primary deviance is the first real change a person makes, which constitutes deviance. In simple terms, it is ‘the first time you do something.’ An example of primary deviance would be a person who hasn’t committed any crime in his whole life but then commits an act of shoplifting.

Shoplifting is an example of primary deviance because it is the first real change in behavior. Primary deviance is usually a one-time occurrence, but some people continue on this deviant path and become ‘secondary deviants.’

According to sociologist Edwin Lemert, the term ‘primary’ means the first deviation in a person’s life and is usually considered minor. Primary deviance usually does not involve serious crimes. People usually commit primary deviance due to curiosity, peer pressure, or personal goals rather than financial gain.

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Influencers of Primary Deviance

Several factors can influence the development of primary deviance in a man. Some of these include:

Peer pressure

Peer pressure is the pressure one’s friends may exert to get them involved in an activity or endeavor. Peer pressure is noted as a major reason people engage in deviant behavior. A person may be trying to impress his friends or even be pressured into a negative outcome by those around him.

An individual’s peers will lead them into committing deviant acts, even though that person may still have control over his actions. Even if the individual does not want to commit the act, they will be pressured.


Parents can create a world of primary deviance for their children. In some cases, parents may be so uptight. Thus, uptightness constantly puts pressure on their children to act in a certain manner, leading them to deviant behavior. They may have children doing things they don’t want them to do.

A child may run away from home and do something negative to get their parents’ attention. The child can also run away in retaliation as this is the only way they believe they can get through to them. A child earns a deviant label when parents feel disrespected and disobeyed.

Examples of Primary Deviance

Examples of primary deviance include:

  • Violence – An individual can be driven to violence through peer pressure, especially when others use it to assert dominance.
  • Alcoholism – Some people may start to drink alcohol due to peer pressure. It is also possible that someone has tried alcohol and enjoyed it. As this maybe an illegal substance depending on age and a degree of peer pressure may be involved, it would still constitute primary deviance.
  • Upsetting the peace – Being noisy and disobeying the rules would be an example of primary deviance as it disturbing others.
  • One-time Drug Abuse- If a student is pressured by their peers to try a drug for the first time, that is primary deviance.

Secondary Deviance

A secondary deviant is a person who engaged in primary deviance, then continued to commit further deviant acts. Secondary deviants usually engage in serious crimes for financial gain or as part of a gang.

An example of secondary deviance is a bank robber who has been involved in several robberies and most likely committed the crime because he enjoyed it the first time around.

Thus, secondary deviance is when a person who has committed primary deviance continues to engage in further deviance and usually does so for personal gain.

Influencers of Secondary Deviance

Influencers of secondary deviance are:


The media usually portrays the ‘glamorous’ lifestyle of a criminal, which can lead to emulation.

An example of media influencing secondary deviance is when a person watches gangster movies or the local news, influencing them into becoming a criminal.

A person may be influenced by seeing the flashy, luxurious and exciting lifestyle that criminals have.  This pressure can lead to emulation and wanting to experience this lifestyle for themselves.


A person who has committed secondary deviance usually does so because their peers have also committed secondary deviance.

For example, a person may see their peers engaging in criminal activities and want to be like them. The peer pressure will be too much for the individual to resist. To fit in, a person will feel as if they must engage in secondary deviance.

Reasons for Secondary Deviance


If a person commits secondary deviance, it may be because they were once involved in primary deviance. They may have been ‘cool’ the first time around, which would make them want to commit further deviant acts and be ‘cool’ again.

An individual may want to be involved in secondary deviance as it can bring them respect from their friends or even strangers. Some deviant acts are associated with a particular social status.

Other people engage in deviant behavior to gain acceptance in some social groups. For example, if they are not respected by their peers or someone they wish to impress, they may commit secondary deviance.

If a person wants more power and influence over others, they may think that the only way to get this is by committing secondary deviance.

Secondary deviance can be attractive as it looks fun and exciting, so some people commit secondary deviance.


Some individuals may look for financial gains when committing secondary deviance. An example of secondary economic deviance is when a bank robber has many expensive belongings and can afford to buy a new car or house.

Examples of Secondary Deviance

Some examples of secondary deviance are:

  • A robber who was once convicted and jailed goes back to robbery. The robber may ignore the consequences of the crime and commit further crimes. The reasons may be social or economic.
  • When selling drugs, a person may sell them to their ‘friends’ cheaply. They do this so that they can make more money by selling more drugs.
  • A person may commit a few faults, and their parents will warn them that they must stop, but the person will continue and ignore their parents.
  • A wife may ask her husband to do the dishes, but he refuses to do so. When asked again, he may say that his working hours are long enough, and it is not fair for him to do household chores as well.
  • A person may owe a large amount of money to the bank. If they do not pay the money, a court may allow the bank to repossess their house or other property. The borrower may then steal some items from a shop to sell for money.
  • A young man may have been caught throwing stones at cars. The police may have warned him that his parents would be informed if he did it again. The offender will not be allowed to go to the local cinema with his friends. But he may still carry on doing it, pretending that he did not hear what the police said when they caught him the first time.
  • A person who has just started a new job may be late for work a couple of times. The boss may allow the person to be late for a short while. However, if it becomes a regular occurrence, the deviant individual will lose their job. The employee may start coming in late on purpose.
  • A person may have been caught stealing something from a shop, and the police gave them a warning. A few weeks later, they may go back to the shop and try to steal something again.
  • A man may make a rude remark to his wife when she is arguing with him. He will then apologize, and they will not argue again. But a few days later, they will argue again, and the man may then say something even worse to his wife.
  • A woman may say to her husband that she wants to move into a house with him to live together for the rest of their lives. When the woman becomes ill, she may move in with her son and his family. She does not tell her husband that she is already living with her son. When asked where she is living, she may give the wrong address.

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Sociological Theories of Primary and Secondary Deviance

Symbolic Interactionism

This theory of deviance suggests that a person’s surroundings, situation, and circumstances affect what they do. Primary (or initial) deviance is when someone commits a crime and is punished for it.

However, if a person thinks that they will not be punished for their actions, they may commit secondary (or subsequent) deviance. Examples include asking for a price reduction in the shop and then shouting at the shop assistants, mugging someone on the street, and then running away.

Symbolic Interactionism suggests that a person’s actions are influenced by society (the people, relations, surroundings, etc.).

Social Learning Theory

There are three things necessary for social learning to occur: attention, retention, and motivation. Three factors affect learning: the power of models, reward, and punishment.

A child can learn to act in a certain way if rewarded for their actions or see that other people are doing well. For example, if a child watches their mother hit her husband and then sees the husband hit her back, they might think this is normal behavior. So they may also go on to hit their partner in later life.

Social Learning Theory suggests that our behavior is learned from those around us. The views and values of other people are copied by others, which in turn copy the second group of people, and so on. Therefore, a person may learn to do something by copying another person who does it.

The labeling theory

This theory suggests that people decide whether someone is deviant or not by labeling them. The public (or media, community leaders, etc.) decides how to define a deviant act.

For example, homosexual people were labeled as deviant, whereas today, they are more accepted and not considered deviant.

Another example is that people who take illegal drugs were labeled as deviant in the past but are now seen to be normal.

According to the labeling theory, three things affect what is considered deviant behavior. These are the reaction of others, rewards for deviance, and the reaction of institutions. These aspects determine the level of social control in society.

When a certain activity is labeled as deviant by others, it can lead to further rejection. Rejection can cause a person to want to be labeled as deviant, so they do not fit in with society. They may then continue to undertake deviant activities to be accepted by others.

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Take Away

There are many different types of deviant behavior. The examples discussed in this blog post should help you understand the difference between primary and secondary deviance. This understanding will enable you to identify deviant acts around you ad know how to handle the offenders.

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