Sex differences in crime

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"Sex and crime" redirects here. For laws which criminalize sexual acts, see Sex crime.

Sex differences in crime are differences between men and women as the perpetrators and/or victims of crime.

Such studies may belong to fields such as criminology or sociobiology (which attempts to demonstrate a causal relationship between biological factors, in this case sex, and human behaviors), etc. Despite the difficulty to interpret them, crime statistics may provide a way to investigate such a relationship, whose possible existence would be interesting from a gender differences perspective. An observable difference in crime rates between men and women might be due to social and cultural factors, crimes going unreported, or to biological factors (as sociobiological theories claim). Furthermore, the nature of the crime itself must be considered.

Statistical data[edit]

In the United States[edit]

Further information: Crime in the United States

In the United States, men are much more likely to be incarcerated than women. Nearly 9 times as many men (5,037,000) as women (581,000) had ever at one time been incarcerated in a State or Federal prison at year end 2001. [1].

Murder and Gender

In 2011, the United States Department of Justice compiled homicide statistics in the United States between 1980 and 2008.[1] That study showed the following:


  • Males committed the vast majority of homicides in the United States at that time, representing 90.5% of the total number of offenders.[1]
  • Young adult black males had the highest homicide offending rate compared to offenders in other racial and sex categories.[1]
  • White females of all ages had the lowest offending rates of any racial or age groups.[1]
  • The overall offending rates for both males and females have declined since 1990.[1]
  • Of children under age 5 killed by a parent, the rate for biological fathers was slightly higher than for biological mothers.[1]
  • However, of children under 5 killed by someone other than their parent, 80% were killed by males.[1]


  • Victimization rates for both males and females have been relatively stable since 2000.[1]
  • Males were more likely to be murder victims (76.8%).[1]
  • Females were most likely to be victims of domestic homicides (63.7%) and sex-related homicides (81.7%)[1]
  • Males were most likely to be victims of drug- (90.5%) and gang-related homicides (94.6%).[1]

In Canada[edit]

Further information: Crime in Canada

According to a Canadian Public Health Agency report, the rate of violent crime doubled among male youth during the late 1980s and 1990s, while it almost tripled among female youth. It rose for the latter from 2.2 per 1,000 in 1988 to a peak of 5.6 per 1,000 in 1996, and began to decline in 1999. Some researchers have suggested that the increase on crime statistics could be partly explained by the stricter approach to schoolyard fights and bullying, leading to a criminalization of behaviours now defined as "assault" behaviours (while they were simply negatively perceived before). The increase in the proportion of female violent crime would thus be explained more by a change in law enforcement policies than by effective behaviour of the population itself. According to the report aforementioned, "Evidence suggests that aggressive and violent behaviour in children is linked to family and social factors, such as social and financial deprivation; harsh and inconsistent parenting; parents’ marital problems; family violence, whether between parents, by parents toward children or between siblings; poor parental mental health; physical and sexual abuse; and alcoholism, drug dependency or other substance misuse by parents or other family members.".[2]

Victims of Person Crimes in Canada by Gender, per 100,000 residents (2008)[3]
Crime Female Male Result Crime Type
Aggravated assault[4] 119 233 Males are 2 times more likely More severe
Forcible confinement 22 7 Females are 3.1 times more likely More severe
Homicide & attempted murder 2 7 Males are 3.5 times more likely More severe
Robbery 62 114 Males are 1.8 times more likely More severe
Sexual assault 68 6 Females are 11.3 times more likely More severe
More severe crimes 273 367 Males are 1.3 times more likely
Simple assault[5] 576 484 Females are 1.2 times more likely Less severe
Uttering threats 156 184 Males are 1.2 times more likely Less severe
Criminal harassment 135 51 Females are 2.6 times more likely Less severe
Less severe crimes 867 719 Females are 1.2 times more likely
Other assaults 16 62 Males are 3.9 times more likely Varies
Other "person" crimes 1 2 Males are 2 times more likely Varies

Worldwide homicide statistics via gender[edit]

According to the data given by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, worldwide, 78.7% of homicide victims are male, and in 193 of the 202 listed countries or regions, males were more likely to be killed than females. In two, the ratio was 50:50 (Swaziland and British Virgin Islands), and in the remaining 7; Tonga, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Latvia and Hong Kong, females were more likely to be victims of homicides compared to males.[6]

Aggressivity and gender[edit]

Further information: Aggression § Gender

Some researchers have suggested that females are not necessarily less aggressive, but that they tend to show their aggression in more covert and less physical ways (e.g., Passive-aggressive behavior). For example, females may display more verbal aggression.[7][8] Additionally, some data shows that while men are more likely than women to use physical aggression overall, rates of physical aggression within the context of dating and marriage tend to be similar for men and women, or that women are even more likely to commit domestic violence against a partner.[9][10][11][12] However, such data generally shows that men tend to inflict the greater share of injuries in domestic violence.[13] Critics have argued "that studies finding about equal rates of violence by women in relationships are misleading because they fail to place the violence in context (Dekeseredy et al. 1997); in other words, there is a difference between someone who uses violence to fight back or defend oneself and someone who initiates an unprovoked assault." [14] Contemporary data, however, have contradicted the self-defense hypothesis. According to a large recent study, women are between two to three times as likely to be the offender in non-reciprocal partner violence. The study suggests that while women are far more prone to be the sole offender, reciprocal violence where both partners use violence has higher frequency of serious injuries, and that these injuries more often have female victims than male.[15]

Sociobiological and evolutionary psychology perspective[edit]

Evolutionary psychology has proposed several evolutionary explanations for gender differences in aggressiveness. Males can increase their reproductive success by polygyny which will lead the competition with other males over females. If the mother died this may have had more serious consequences for a child than if the father died in the ancestral environment since there is a tendency for greater parental investments and caring for children by females than by males[citation needed]. Greater caring for children also leads to difficulty leaving them in order to either fight or flee. Anne Campbell writes that females may thus avoid direct physical aggressiveness and instead use strategies such as "friendship termination, gossiping, ostracism, and stigmatization".[16]

Sociology of Gender and Crime[edit]

Considerations of gender in regard to crime have been considered to be largely ignored and pushed aside in criminological and sociological study, until recent years, to the extent of female deviance having been marginalised (Heidensohn, 1995). In the past fifty years of sociological research into crime and deviance sex differences were understood and quite often mentioned within works, such as Merton's theory of anomie, however, they were not critically discussed, and often any mention of female delinquency was only as comparative to males, to explain male behaviours, or through defining the girl as taking on the role of a boy, namely, conducting their behaviour and appearance as that of a 'tomboy' and by rejecting the female role, adopting stereotypical masculine traits.

One key reason contended for this lack of attention to females in crime and deviance is due to the view that female crime has almost exclusively been dealt with by men, from policing through to legislators, and that this has continued through into the theoretical approaches, quite often portraying what could be considered as a one-sided view, as Mannheim suggested Feminism and Criminology In Britain (Heidensohn, 1995).

However, other contentions have been made as explanations for the invisibility of women in regard to theoretical approaches, such as: females have an '...apparently low level of offending' (Heidensohn, 1995); that they pose less of a social threat than their male counterparts; that their 'delinquencies tend to be of a relatively minor kind' Girls In The Youth Justice System(Heidensohn, 1995), but also due to the fear that including women in research could threaten or undermine theories, as Thrasher and Sutherland feared would happen with their research (Heidensohn, 1995).

Further theories have been contended, with many debates surrounding the involvement and ignoring of women within theoretical studies of crime, however, with new approaches and advances in feminist studies and masculinity studies, and the claims of increases in recent years in female crime, especially that of violent crime Girls In The Youth Justice System more attention seems to be becoming of this topic.

Sex Differences Within the Court System[edit]

At least one study has noted substantial differences in the treatment and behavior of defendants in the courts on the basis of gender; female criminologist Frances Heidensohn postulates that for judges and juries it is often "impossible to isolate the circumstances that the defendant is a woman from the circumstances that she can also be a widow, a mother, attractive, or may cry on the stand."[17] Furthermore, male and female defendants in court have reported being advised to conduct themselves differently in accordance with their gender; women in particular recall being advised to express "mute passivity," whereas men are encouraged to "assert themselves" in cross-examinations and testimony.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008" United States Department of Justice (2010)
  2. ^ Aggressive Girls, Public Health Agency of Canada, last updated 10 June 2006, URL accessed on April 13, 2007
  3. ^ Rates of victims of police-reported violent crime by age group, Canada, 2008 Retrieved May-31-2014
  4. ^ Aggravated assaults include; assault level 3 and assault level 2
  5. ^ Includes assault 1
  6. ^ a b UNDOC Homicide Statistics 2013 used tables: Homicide counts and rates & Percentage of male and female homicide victims Retrieved May-31-2014
  7. ^ Bjorkqvist, Kaj, Kirsti M. Lagerspetz, and Karin Osterman. "Sex Differences in Covert Aggression." Aggressive Behavior 202 (1994): 27-33. 6 Dec. 2006
  8. ^ Hines, Denise A., and Kimberly J. Saudino. "Gender Differences in Psychological, Physical, and Sexual Aggression Among College Students Using the Revised Conflict Tactics Scales." Violence and Victims 18 (2003): 197-217. 7 Dec. 2006
  9. ^ Archer, J. (2000). Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 651-680.
  10. ^ "[W]omen reported the expression of as much or more violence in their relationships as men." Bookwala, J., Frieze, I. H., Smith, C., & Ryan, K. (1992). Predictors of dating violence: A multi variate analysis. Violence and Victims, 7, 297-311.
  11. ^ Dutton, D. G., Nicholls, T. L., & Spidel, A. (2005). Female perpetrators of intimate abuse. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 41, (4) 1-31.
  12. ^ "[R]ates of commission of acts and initiation of violence were similar across gender." Makepeace, J. M. (1986). Gender differences in courtship violence victimization. Family Relations, 35, 383-388.
  13. ^ Archer, 2000
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, edited by David M. Buss, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005. Chapter 21 by Anne Campbell.
  17. ^ a b Heidensohn, Frances (1986). Women and Crime. New York: New York University Press. 


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