At the core of social disorganization theory, is that location matters when it comes to predicting illegal activity. Shaw and McKay noted that neighborhoods with the highest crime rates have at least three common problems, physical dilapidation, poverty, and higher level of ethnic and culture mixing.

The theory posits concentric zones round the central area, defined by their residential composition, moving from the very poor and socially deviant, in the inner zone of transition, to a peripheral suburban commuter