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Crime and gender roles


Females have always committed less crime than men. Previous research has shown that gender roles have some impact on the disparity in crime rates between males and females. Based on this research, I hypothesize that the more in line a male is with traditional gender roles the more likely he is to commit violent crime. However, the more in line a female is with traditional gender roles, the less likely she is to commit violent crime. A survey will be used to test this hypothesis by measuring traditional gender roles and violent crimes committed. By understanding what affects this discrepancy between male and female crime, better preventive measure could be created to bring male crime down.


There has always been a disparity in crime rates for males and females. In 2008, according the U.S. Department of Justice, there were about 115,000 females and almost 1.5 million males in prison in the United States (West & Sabol, 2009). This can be seen as a fairly large discrepancy between male and female crime rates. Even though the female arrest rate is increasing at a faster pace than the male rate, women still account for less than 15% of all arrests (Shover, et al. 1979). This gender gap is greatest for serious crime and least for other petty forms of crime (Steffensmeier & Allan, 1996). So why do women commit less crime than men?

The feminist theory contends that gender roles and the expectations associated with each role affecting the crime rates of men and women in a patriarchal society. These gender roles are used as a system of control because people tend to accept the “essential natures” of the sexes that are inherently different (Heimer & De Coster, 1999). Some of these differences are more closely associated with violent behavior than others. Certain characteristics such as aggressiveness, physical strength and competiveness, can be closely aligned with masculinity and criminal behavior (Shover, et al. 1979). Since these characteristics are valued by both crime and masculinity, the dividing line can be a thin one (Oakley, 1972). On the other hand, traditional female roles have been closely tied with submissiveness, weakness and passivity (Heimer & De Coster, 1999). While traditional male roles can be closely associated with criminal behavior, traditional female roles can be seen as contradictory to it. These roles are seen as incompatible with the qualities needed for criminal behavior, which makes it harder for women to gain access to criminal behavior (Steffensmeier & Allan, 1996).

Gender roles have some impact on how people see the world and interact with it. Trying to understand the gender gap in crime should be looked at through how gender roles affect both genders. Using gender roles, I hypothesize that the more in line a male is with traditional gender roles the more likely he is to commit violent crime. However, the more in line a female is with traditional gender roles, the less likely she is to commit violent crime.

Previous Research

There is no contention between criminologists that the gender gap in crime exists. There are, however, some differences in the explanations as to why this gender gap exists. Power control theory, variations of feminism and other theories have all tried to explain why males commit more crime than females. Some theories argue a direct link between gender and crime while others argue an indirect one. Even though much of the information is based on delinquency, it can provide a foundation for understanding adult crime.

First of all, the masculine theory suggests that there is a direct link between gender and crime. Even though the gap between female crime and male crime is getting closer, females still commit less crime in all areas besides prostitution (Steffensmeier & Allan, 1996). Proponents of the masculine theory believe that as females gain more equality within society, they will also become more violent. These changes are attributed to females becoming more masculine in their psychological makeup (Shover, et al. 1979). Women are developing an “imitative male machismo competitiveness” which, in turn, could contribute to the faster rise in crime rates for women (Adler, 1975). It has been suggested that masculinity and criminality are linked because they both share some of the same characteristics and as women internalize more “masculine” qualities, they will become more criminal. These masculine theories suggest a direct link between gender and crime. Shover found that when studying delinquency, girls and boys whose gender expectations were more feminine, the less likely they will be involved in property crime (1979).

Other theoretical literature bodies suggest that instead of gender and crime being directly related, other factors affect the genders differently. It is these factors that affect the genders differently creating the disparity in crime rates. Opportunity to commit crime, social controls and differential associations have all been used to explain why females commit less crime than men.

Historically, female gender roles have not afforded females the opportunity to engage in crime and because of this females have had more social controls placed on them (Shover, et al. 1979). These social controls decrease the opportunity females have to commit crimes. For the most part, boys have more opportunities than men because they are offered more autonomy. Daughters who are raised in strong patriarchal families are subjected to more social control which decreases their preference for risk; while males are given more autonomy and freedom to make choices for themselves which increases their preference for risk (Grasmick, et al. 1996). This means they are subject to more informal social control growing up and because women are rejected access to the public sphere more than males, delinquent acts are less available to them (Hagan, Simpson, & Gillis, 1979). An increase in property crimes by females could be attributed to the fact that as modernization brings more commodities to an area, the opportunity to commit property crime also increases (Hartnagel, 1982). In other words, since women are the main commodity buyer, as more commodities become available in an area, the opportunity increases to commit property offenses.

In addition, according to the power control theory, growing up in a patriarchal family has bearing on the type of social control he/she is subject to. Authority relations involved in work outside the home influence the mother's and father's relational power which, depending on the gender, affects the social control placed on the children (Grasmick, et al. 1996). Since girls experience more social control from the family than boy do, they also have stronger familial bonds. These familial bonds create stronger informal social controls which decreases the risk to commit crime. In 1991, when the power control theory was tested, Morash and Chesney-Lind found that gender differences were seen regardless of an egalitarian or patriarchal family structure (Espinosa, Belshaw, & Osho, 2008)

While some criminologists focused on opportunity and control theories applied to gender, Heimer suggested that differential association and gender could explain female and male crime rates. Since differential social organization affects behavior through cultural processes, differential association, can be formulated to fit both males and females (Heimer & De Coster, 1999). With this formulation, gender theories and differential association can work together to explain the gender gap in violent crime. Heimer argues that the definitions that curb females are more indirect and subtle than those that curb boys. The gender gap likely affects gender differences in levels of violent definitions. Boys are more likely to accept more violent definitions than girls which increase their risk for committing crime. Since boys are more likely to externalize aggression, it can translate into increased violence (Steffensmeier, et al. 2006). This greater acceptance of violent definitions can be attributed to males privilaged postion within society (Cambell, 1993). While violent definitions help explain one part of Heimer's theory, gender roles shed light on the other. When people internalize gender roles they are more likely to act in accodance with them (Heimer & De Coster, 1999). Girls and boys who strongly endorse violent definitions are more likely to commit violent delinquency and girls who endorse gender roles and definitions are less likely to commit violent delinquency (Heimer & De Coster, 1999).

Sex-related attitudinal differences emerge from gender roles in the family and from culturally shared expectations that apply to men and women (Eagly, et al. 2004). The roles that are occupied more by one sex than another produces sex-related expectations because the characteristics required to carry out gender-typical tasks become sterotypical of men and women (Eagly, et al. 2004). The socialization process of males in the United States instills in boys a limiting code of masculinity that links traditional gender roles with violence (Hong, 2000). Aggression research shows that boys are implicated in direct forms of aggression more than girls (Artz, Nicholson, & Magnuson, 2008). Many of the forms of aggression used, especially direct verbal aggression, can be derived from cultural norms that put male aggression congruent with gender expectations (Artz, Nicholson, & Magnuson, 2008). Furthermore, college men who ascribe to more traditional male beliefs reported having a higher rate of unprotected sex, binge drinking and motor vehicle accidents than their less traditional peers (Hong, 2000).

Previous research has shown that gender roles have some impact on the disparity in crime rates between males and females. Based on this research, I hypothesize that the more in line a male is with traditional gender roles the more likely he is to commit violent crime. However, the more in line a female is with traditional gender roles, the less likely she is to commit violent crime.

Methods And Data

The data will be collected in a survey of male and female, undergraduate and graduate students at Chaminade University using non-probability sampling. Using non-probability sampling is not ideal but is necessary with the time and access restrictions placed on the researcher. Since non-probability sampling will be used it can't be generalized to the general population. Even with this, it should provide some insight into the discrepancy between male and female crime. Under the circumstances, is not possible or plausible to get a sampling frame of the target population. Convenient non-probability sampling is the most feasible sampling method for this situation.

A self-report procedure will be used to gather the information and the participation will be voluntary. The survey will be conducted by the researcher in class rooms during class in which she has permission from the instructor. The surveys will be passed out to all students and the researcher will explain that they can decline to take the survey by leaving it blank. This is done to protect the identity of those who decide to take it. Blank surveys will be removed at a later date and discarded. They will be asked to leave their name off the survey for anonymity purposes. In order to protect the information, they will be kept in a binder that the only the researcher has access.

The survey will be composed of 10 closed-ended questions assessing whether or not the subject has engaged in certain criminal acts. It will also have 5 open ended questions and two likert scales with 5 questions each. Two of the open ended questions will be used to test how a person feels about aggression and violence and the remaining three questions will be used to test how they feel about certain traditional gender roles. Also, a set of demographic questions will be used to gain background on the subject such as gender, age and ethnicity.

Violent crime will be conceptualized as anyone who commits an act which is unlawful and causes harm to another person or property. Furthermore, each individual crime will be defined by the Uniform Crime Report definitions. By using a standardized definition, validity and reliability will hopefully be increased. Defining the acts by these definitions will hopefully reduce confusion as to what the acts as to what the crime actually is. These questions will be asked of different violent acts such as assault, burglary and robbery. Since these questions can be seen as threatening or have social desirability issues, they will be asked in a way to reduce these problems. The questions will not be asked in a way that looks threatening. For example, instead of asking whether or not a person has ever committed an assault, the person will be asked if they ever got in a fist fight.

Also, in order to get a full picture as to the propensity toward violence a person has, a likert scale will also be used to measure this variable. This will be used to test close the subject is in line with violent tendencies. The scale will include situations in which a person could use aggression or not use it. Even if a person has not yet committed a crime, using a likert scale to test violent tendencies will hopefully provide a more complete picture of whether or not a person is likely to commit a violent crime or not.

Gender roles have been conceptualized in many different ways. Using Shover and colleague's conceptualization, they will be defined as behavioral expectations one has for them, expectations one has of others and plans for the future (Shover, et al. 1979). This includes different characteristics that will be measured using a likert scale of questions. These questions will state traditional gender roles and the subjects will be asked to state where they fall on the scale. A traditional masculinity expectations and traditional femininity expectations scales were created to test how a subject feels about certain traditional roles. According to Shover and colleagues, the traditional masculinity expectations scale constitutes the following:

1. I expect to pay for activities when on a date.

2. I expect to help fix things like the car.

3. If I marry, I would expect to provide most of the income for my family.

4. I expect to ask someone for a date rather than be asked.

5. If I marry, I would expect to take responsibility for major family decisions, such as buying a home or a car.

The traditional femininity expectation scale includes the following:

1. If I marry, I would expect to be mainly responsible for housework, whether working outside the home or not.

2. Before going out at night, I expect to tell my parents where I am going.

3. I expect to help take care of younger children in the family or neighbor-hood.

4. I expect to get married and raise a family rather than get a job in the business world.

5. If I marry, I would expect to move to another city if my spouse changed jobs.

According to Shover, the internal consistency reliability is .83 for masculinity and .56 for femininity (1979).

The data for each gender will be analyzed and presented separately from each other using SPSS. This program will also be used for data management. Statistical analysis will be done on the frequency of crime committed. Correlation between gender and crimes committed will be done as well as correlation between certain gender roles and tendency toward aggression and violence. A t-test will be used to compare the means of the frequency of crime committed to feminine and masculine gender roles.


This research expects to find a positive correlation between masculine gender roles and amount of crime committed. A negative correlation is expected to be seen with feminine gender roles and the amount of crime committed. Depending on the gender, these findings should have a stronger correlation if the subject is male and he has a stronger alliance with traditional roles.

By understanding gender roles and how they affect crime rates, we can better grasp the problem of male and female crime. Using this information, better preventive programs and measures could be created to curb male and female crime. Addressing the socialization process and how one acquires certain beliefs related to gender roles could help create new policies that reduce crime. Stopping the practices in public areas that reinforce certain beliefs could be the first step to creating a truly effective preventive program.

Works Cited

Adler, F. (1975). Sisters in Crime. New York: McGraw- Hill.

Artz, S., Nicholson, D., & Magnuson, D. (2008). Examining Sex Differences in the Use of Direct and Indirect Aggression. Gender Issues , 267-288.

Cambell, A. (1993). Men, Women and Aggression. New York: Basic Books.

Eagly, A. H., Dickman, A. B., Koenig, A. M., & Johannesen-Schmidt, M. C. (2004). Gender Gaps in Sociopolitical Attitudes: A Social Psychological Analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 796-816.

Espinosa, E. M., Belshaw, S. H., & Osho, S. (2008). Justice by Gender: Understanding the Role of Gender in Dispostion Decisions Involving Out of Home Placement for Juvenile Offenders. American Journal of Criminal Justice , 267.

Grasmick, H. G., Hagan, J., Blackwell, B. S., & Arneklev, B. J. (1996). Risk Preferences and Partiarchy: Extending Power-Control Theory. Social Forces , 177-191.

Hagan, J., Simpson, J. H., & Gillis, A. (1979). Sexual Stratification of Social Control: Agenda Based Perspective on Crime and Delinquency. British Journal of Sociology , 25-38.

Hartnagel, T. F. (1982). Modernization, Female Social Roles and Female Crime: Across-National Investigation. The Sociological Quartly , 477-490.

Heimer, K., & De Coster, S. (1999). The Gendering of Violent Delinquency. Criminology , 277.

Hong, L. (2000). Toward a Transformed Approach to Prevention: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence. Journal of College Health , 269.

Oakley, A. (1972). Sex, Gender and Society. New York: Harper & Row.

Shover, N., Norland, S., James, J., & Thornton, W. E. (1979). Gender Roles and Delinquency. Social Forces , 162-175.

Steffensmeier, D., & Allan, E. (1996). Gender and Crime: Toward a Gendered Theory of Female Offending. Annual Review of Sociology , 459-518.

Steffensmeier, D., Zhong, H., Ackerman, J., Schwartz, J., & Agha, S. (2006). Gender Gap Trends for Violent Crimes, 1980-2003: A UCR-NCVS Comparison. Feminist Criminology , 72-98.

West, H. C., & Sabol, W. J. (2009, April 8). Prison Inmates at Midyear 2008- Statistical Tables. Retrieved December 9, 2009, from Bureau of Justice Statistics:

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