Sex differences in crime

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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 (the scientific study of criminal behavior) 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.

Many professionals have offered explanations for this sex difference in crimes. Some differing explanations include men's evolutionary tendency toward risk and violent behavior, sex differences in activity, social support, and gender inequality. Rowe, Vazsonyi, and Flannery (1995) demonstrated that rations of self reported delinquent acts are higher for men than women across many different actions thus supporting the fact that men commit more criminal acts than women.[1] Burton, et al. (1998) found that low levels of self control are associated with criminal activity.[2]

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.[3]

In 2011, the United States Department of Justice compiled homicide statistics in the United States between 1980 and 2008.[4] 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.[4]
  • Young adult black males had the highest homicide offending rate compared to offenders in other racial and sex categories.[4]
  • White females of all ages had the lowest offending rates of any racial or age groups.[4]
  • Of children under age 5 killed by a parent, the rate for biological fathers was slightly higher than for biological mothers.[4]
  • However, of children under 5 killed by someone other than their parent, 80% were killed by males.[4]
  • Victimization rates for both males and females have been relatively stable since 2000.[4]
  • Males were more likely to be murder victims (76.8%).[4]
  • Females were most likely to be victims of domestic homicides (63.7%) and sex-related homicides (81.7%)[4]
  • Males were most likely to be victims of drug- (90.5%) and gang-related homicides (94.6%).[4]

From 2003-2012 there was a decrease in the rate of crime overall, but an increase in crimes committed by women.[5] There was an increase in arrest rate for women of 2.9% but a decrease in arrest rate for men of 12.7%.[5] This demonstrates an increase in arrests for women which only slightly offsets the decrease in arrest for men resulting in a decrease overall in arrest rate in the United States. Notably, arrests rates for women had a sizable increase in the following crimes: robbery (+20.2%), larceny-theft (+29.6%), and arson - property crime (+24.7%).[5]

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.".[6]

Victims of Person Crimes in Canada by Gender, per 100,000 residents (2008)[7]
Crime Female Male Result Crime Type
Aggravated assault[8] 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[9] 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.[10]

Aggressivity and gender[edit]

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.[11][12] 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.[13][14][15][16] However, such data generally shows that men tend to inflict the greater share of injuries in domestic violence.[17] Critics have used studies such as Dekeseredy et al. to argue that "studies finding about equal rates of violence by women in relationships are misleading because they fail to place the violence in context; 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."[18]

However, one study argued that it was the above-cited Dekeseredy et al. that in fact improperly contextualized partner violence; Dekeseredy's campus study was based around asking women and only women if their violence was in self-defense, and not permitting the same for men. This results in counting men who had defended themselves as perpetrators, and counting women who may have engaged in ex post facto justification of their violence, a noted trait of psychological abuse, as victims.[19] The study further found that studies from the US Department of Justice did not contextualize violence simply by not counting women perpetrators until forced to by the US Center for Disease Control. Other studies that decontextualized partner violence included labeling aggregate findings of motivations for violence that included the desire to coerce or control the partner or being angry with the partner as "striking back" when such questions revealed that women scored equal to or higher than men in desires to use violence out of simple anger or to coerce and control the partner.[20] When factors such as allowing both or neither gender to claim self-defense, or simply including male victims and female perpetrators in the sample, the results were at or near parity for perpetrators and victims, with the results near parity sometimes favoring females and sometimes favoring males. Another large study reveals that 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.[21]

Nature vs. nurture[edit]

Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi[22] compare childhood risk factors of males and females portraying childhood-onset and adolescent-onset antisocial behavior, which influences deviant behavior in individuals. Childhood-onset delinquency is attributed to lack of parenting, neurocognitive problems, and temperament and behavior problems. On the other hand, adolescent-onset delinquents did not encounter similar childhood problems. This study showed a male-to-female ratio of 10:1 for those experiencing childhood-onset delinquency and 15:1 for adolescent-onset delinquency. Moffitt and Caspi hypothesized that “‘life-course-persistent’ antisocial behavior originates early in life, when the difficult behavior of a high-risk young child is exacerbated by a high-risk social environment”.[23] Also, “‘adolescent-limited’ antisocial behavior emerges alongside puberty, where otherwise healthy youngsters experience dysphoria during the relatively role-less years between biological maturation and access to mature privileges and responsibilities”, called the maturity gap.[23] They look at the taxonomy theory, which states that the gender difference in crime are based on sex differences in the risk factors for life-course-persistent antisocial behavior. Based on research, girls are less likely than boys to have nervous system dysfunctions, difficult temperament, late maturity in verbal and motor development, learning disabilities, and childhood behavioral problems. Females are just as likely as males to enter the adolescent-limited delinquency, but because they are excluded from the male antisocial groups, they are less likely to have the opportunities as males to become involved in delinquent behavior.[23]

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".[24]


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.[25] 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.[26]

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'); that they pose less of a social threat than their male counterparts; that their 'delinquencies tend to be of a relatively minor kind', 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.[25]

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.[27]

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."[28] 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.[28]

Major empirical findings[edit]

Burton et al. (1998)[29] assessed Gottfredson and Hirschi's (1990) "general theory of crime," which stated that individuals with lower levels of self-control are more likely to be involved in criminal behavior, in a gender-sensitive context. The purpose of their study was to account for the gender gap in crime rates. By using a self-reporting questionnaire, Burton et al. (1998) retrieved data from 555 individuals aged eighteen and older in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area. Early results from the study indicated that low self-control was highly positively correlated to criminal behavior in both genders, but was especially significant for males. For females, the relationship became significant when opportunity was introduced and considered with level of self-control. Opportunity was not a significant indicator of male criminal behavior, which the authors attribute to the assumption that opportunity for criminal behavior is "ubiquitous," or readily available, for men. In this study, opportunity was measured by the number of nights per week individuals go out for recreation purposes. Much the same, the authors conclude that women are less likely to be exposed to opportunities for criminal behavior, speculating that "constraints often placed on females, and that accompany their lifestyles" contribute to less opportunity for crime.[30] With self-control being significant for males but not for females, the conclusions of this study pointed toward the notion that men and women commit crimes for different reasons. The notion that self-control was only significant for women when combined with opportunity helps account for the gender gap seen in crime rates.

David Rowe, Alexander Vazsonyi, and Daniel Flannery, authors of “Sex Differences in Crime: Do Means and Within-Sex Variation Have Similar Causes?”[31] focus on the widely acknowledged fact that there is a large sex difference in crime: more men than women commit crimes. This fact has been true over time and across cultures. Also, there are a more equal number of men that commit serious crimes resulting in injury or death than women (David, Vazsonyi, & Flannery, 1995). In a study that looked at self-reports of delinquent acts, researchers identified several sex differences by looking at sex ratios. For every woman, 1.28 men drink alcohol, which is a large influencer in deviant behavior. For every woman, 2.7 men committed the crime of stealing up to $50. Lastly, for every woman, 3.7 men steal more than $50. Also, more males are involved in homicides, as both the perpetrators and victims, than females. Furthermore, one male is more delinquent than another for mainly the same reasons that men typically engage in criminal acts more than women.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rowe, David; Vazsonyi, Alexander; Flannery, Daniel (1995). "Sex Differences in Crime: Do Means and Within-Sex Variation Have Similar Causes?". Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 32: 84–100. 
  2. ^ Burton, Velmer; Cullen, Francis; Evans, David; Alarid, Leanne Fiftal; Dunaway, R. Gregory (1998). "Gender, Self-Control, and Crime". Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 35 (2): 123–147. 
  3. ^ [1].
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008" United States Department of Justice (2010)
  5. ^ a b c Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Ten-Year Arrest Trends, by Sex, 2003-2012". 
  6. ^ Aggressive Girls, Public Health Agency of Canada, last updated 10 June 2006, URL accessed on April 13, 2007
  7. ^ Rates of victims of police-reported violent crime by age group, Canada, 2008 Retrieved May-31-2014
  8. ^ Aggravated assaults include; assault level 3 and assault level 2
  9. ^ Includes assault 1
  10. ^ a b UNDOC Homicide Statistics 2013 used tables: Homicide counts and rates & Percentage of male and female homicide victims Retrieved May-31-2014
  11. ^ Bjorkqvist, Kaj, Kirsti M. Lagerspetz, and Karin Osterman. "Sex Differences in Covert Aggression." Aggressive Behavior 202 (1994): 27-33. 6 Dec. 2006
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ Archer, J. (2000) Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 651-680.
  14. ^ "[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.
  15. ^ Dutton, D. G., Nicholls, T. L., & Spidel, A. (2005). Female perpetrators of intimate abuse. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 41, (4) 1-31.
  16. ^ "[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.
  17. ^ Archer, 2000
  18. ^ (Dekeseredy et al. 1997)
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Moffitt, Terrie & Caspi, Avshalom. (2001). Childhood Predictors Differentiate Life-Course Persistent and Adolescence-Limited Antisocial Pathways Among Males and Females. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 355-375. URL:
  23. ^ a b c Moffitt & Caspi, 2001
  24. ^ The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, edited by David M. Buss, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005. Chapter 21 by Anne Campbell.
  25. ^ a b (Heidensohn, 1995).
  26. ^ Feminism and Criminology In Britain (Heidensohn, 1995).
  27. ^ Girls In The Youth Justice System
  28. ^ a b Heidensohn, Frances (1986). Women and Crime. New York: New York University Press. 
  29. ^ Burton, V. S., Cullen, F. T., Evans, T. D., Alarid, L. F., Dunaway, R. G. (1998). Gender, self control, and crime. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 35(2), 123-147. URL:
  30. ^ Cullen et al., 1998.
  31. ^ Rowe, David C. (1995). Sex Differences in Crime: Do Means and Within-Sex Variation Have Similar Causes? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 32(1), 84-100. URL:
  32. ^ Rowe, Vazsonyi, & Flannery, 1995


External links[edit]