Gender differences in crime

HideShow resource information

Theories of Crime and Deviance


1 of 14

Differential controls

Heidensohn (Conformist):Females are generally more conformist because patriarchal society imposes greater control over their behaviour. Shown in the following ways:

Smart: Girls are more strictly supervised by their parents, especially outside the home.

McRobbie and Garber: Teenage girls' lives revolve around a 'bedroom culture', so they are more likely than boys to socilize within the home rather than in public places.

Sue Lee (slags):

Girls are more likely to be controlled, as many fear having a 'bad' reputation. She notes that boys in schools often use verbalized sexual labels such as '****' to control girls. Girls may steer clear of deviant behaviour to avoid these labels.

Heidensohn (Gender Roles):

Women are more likely to be controlled by their roles as mothers and wives, so have little time for illegal activity. Women are less likely to be in public places where crime and deviance might occur due to fear of male violence or quiring a bad reputation.

2 of 14

Differential Socialization

Smart and Oakley:

Males are socialized into aggresive, self-seeking and individualistic behaviour that may make them more inclined to take risks and commit criminal acts. Females however, are socilaized into potentially less criminal set of values and norms that stress cooperation, tenderness and caring for others.

3 of 14

Rational Choices

Carlen (lack of education):

Working class females commit crimes because they lack the four controls that prevent most people from committing crimes.

  • Attachment
  • Commitment
  • Involvement
  • Belief

Carlen argues that criminal women are often women who have failed to gain qualifications and find legitimate work. They often live in poverty and are dependent on benefits. Their attachment to family life may be weak because they have been abused by family members, run away from home and/or spent their time in care.

Carlen argues that criminal women come to the rational conclusion that crime is therefore the only route to a decent standard of living. Having a criminal record reinforces future criminal behaviour because it makes commitment to a conventional job and family life even less likely.

Critics: suggest Carlen fails to explain why women in poverty choose not to commit crime.

4 of 14

The feminization of poverty

Some feminist sociologists argue that poverty has become feminized in the last 20 years, as women have become increasingly more likely than men to experience low pay and benefits. Consequently, some types of crime dominated by females, notably shoplifiting and social security fraud, may be a reaction to poverty.


Shoplifitng and prostitution are often motivated by economic necessity e.g. to provide children with food, toys and clothing.

5 of 14

Liberation Theory: Increase in women crime rates

Alder (Free from patriarchy):

Alder argues that as society becomes less patriarchal, women's crime rates will rise. In other words, women's liberation from patriarchy will lead to a new type of female criminal because they will have greater opportunity and confidence to commit crime.

  • Between 1981 and 1997, the number of under 18 girls convicted of voilent offences in England and Wales doubled - from 65 per 100 000 to 135 per 100 000.
  • A Demos survey of 2000 UK women aged 18-24 found that one in eight respondents believed it was acceptable to use physical voilence to get something they wanted.


Burman et al. conducted a questionnaire survey of teenage girls in Glasgow and found that

  • 98.5% of girls had witnessed first hand some form of interpersonal physical violence
  • 70% had witnessed first hand 5 or more incidents.
  • Nearly two thirds knew someone who had been physically hurt or injured by violence
6 of 14

Liberation Theory: Increase in women crime rates

  • 41% had experienced someone deliberately hitting, punching, or kicking them.
  • 10% of the girls described themselves as 'violent' and 10% reported having committed seven or more types of physially voilent acts such as punching kicking and hitting with an object.

Other critics point out that economic changes have benefitted mainly middle-class women. There are few signs of these women being involved in white collar or corporate crime. Most female offenders are working class and are probably motivated by many of the same factors that motivate working-class men e.g. poverty, eelings of humiliation, powerlessness, envy and hostility.

7 of 14

Postmodern Perspectives


Croall looks at female crime from a postmodern perspective and suggests that teenage girls are usually motivated to commit crime by three inter related factors:

  • a drug habit (often leads to prostitution or shop lifting)
  • the excitement of commiting a crime
  • conspicuous consumption: The idea that identity and status are dependent on material things such as designer labels and jewlerry.
8 of 14

Examiners' notes (Research methods)

Self Report Studies:

Self report studies are a type of questionnaire used to investigate gender differences in committed crime. Campbell's self report study found that the ratio of male crime to female crime is 1.5 to 1 rather than 7 to 1. However, the findings of such surveys are often undermined by over reporting, under reporting, ethical problems and the difficulty of finding a representative sample.

Feminist Researchers:

Feminist researchers reject survey methods such as questionnaires and structures interviews because they claim that their emphasis on objectivity and detachment makes them masculine methods.

Oakley and Graham:

They argue that sociologists should use methods such as unstructured interviews and observation, which allow the researcher to understand women's experiences and view points. Oakley suggests taht the interviewers must be prepared to invest his or her personal identity in the relationship with those being researched.

9 of 14

Why men commit more crime than women

Oakley's ideas were developed by James Messerschmidt, who argued that boys in the UK are socialized into a hegemonic masuline value system that stresses differences from women, and particular masucline goals that need to be achieved in order to become a 'real man'.

These goals include:

  • the need to acquire respect from other men in order to maintain reputation
  • having power, authoirty and control over other people
  • objectification of women and the celebration of masculine virtility through promiscuity
  • toughness expressed through aggression, confrontation and force
  • territorial loyalty and honour expressed through being part of a larger group
  • being emotionally hard and not expressing weakness by showing feelings
  • being anti authority, by claiming individuality and self reliance
  • taking risks and living life on the edge
  • seeking pleasures, thrills and experience to compensate for the boredom of work and unemployment
10 of 14

Messerschmidt (Gangs)

Messerschmidt argues that working class youths experience of education is often one of under-achievement. Anti-social subcultures are constructed and organized around the achievment of hegemonic masculine values to compensate for the negative experience of school. These gangs operate inside and outside of school.

However, Messerschmidt notes that this need to live out masculine values is not confined to working class youth and men. He notes that middle class men may be motivated by this masculine vaue system to commit white collar and corporate crime.


Messerschmidt's analysis has been criticized because he fails to explain why not all men use crime to accomplish hegemonic masculinity. The majoirty are law abiding citizens. Furthermore, there is a debate as to whether masculinity is a major cause of crime or whether it is merely one way in which crime is expressed. For example is it just an expression of toughness rather than being a cause of crime?

11 of 14

Winlow's study: The changing nature of masculinity

Winlow conducted a study of masculinity in Sunderland. It suggested that most working class men traditionally expressed their masculine values through the work they did, through their domestic roles as breadwinner and head of household and through their leisure time which focussed mainly on drinking in pubs. Opportunities to get involved in crime were relatively low and voilence when it occurred which was fairly rare was shaped by masculine competition for respect and status or for the attention of women.

However, the mass unemployment of the 1980s experienced in industrial communities such as Sunderland meant that men could no longer express their masculinity through their work or by being the breadwinner. Economic change often meant that women became the breadwinners. Winlow notes that young men, in particular experienced long term unemployment after leaving school and became dependent on benefits. Winlow argues that these young men increasingly value violence as it offers a release from boredom and access to status. In this world the gang becomes all important because it provides thrills, protection, mutual support, friendship, prestige and income to buy fashionable clothes, alcohol and drugs.

12 of 14

Winlow's study #2

Winlow suggests the nature of criminal oppurtunity has also changed because of these economic changes. Criminality is now an entrepeneurial concern- a means of making money. Crime and violence have become careers in themselves e.g. money can now be made:

  • illegitimately through protection rackets, dealing in drugs and/or stolen cars and loan sharking
  • legitimately by being a bouncer or security consultant.
13 of 14

Postmodern studies of masculinity and crime


Katz argues that young males commit crime for the pleasure or thrill that is derived from the risk of being caught or having power over others. Katz refers to these thrills as transgressions. Stephen Lyng suggets that much of crime is edgework, as it is located on the edge, between the thrill of getting away with it and the potential danger and uncertainty of being captured and punished.

In this case, crime is a form of gambling, providing pleasure and thrills. It allows young men who have little economic security to excerise a form of control over their lives. Katz also notes that violence, in terms of hrill and power excerise over others, is rational in the context of achieving the goals of hegeminoc masculinity.

14 of 14


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Crime and deviance resources »