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8.3: Who Commits Crime?

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    Learning Objectives

    1. Explain why males commit more crime than females.
    2. Discuss whether social class differences exist in crime rates.
    3. Discuss whether racial/ethnic differences exist in crime rates.

    While people from all walks of life commit street crime, some people are still more likely than others to break the law because of their social backgrounds. These social backgrounds include their gender, age, social class, urban/rural residence, and race and ethnicity. Despite their inaccuracies, the three data sources discussed in the first section of this chapter all provide a similar picture of what kinds of people, in terms of their social backgrounds, are more or less likely to commit street crime. We briefly discuss each background in turn.

  • Gender

    Simply put, males commit much more crime than females. In UCR data, men comprise about 81 percent of all arrests for violent crime and about 63 percent of all arrests for property crime. (See Figure 8.3 “Gender and Arrest (Percentage of All Arrests)”.) In the NCVS, victims report that males commit most of the violent crimes they experienced, and self-report studies find that males far outpace females in the commission of serious street offenses. When it comes to breaking the law, crime is a man’s world.

    Figure 8.3 Gender and Arrest (Percentage of All Arrests)


    Source: Data from Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2011). Crime in the United States, 2010. Washington, DC: Author.

    The key question is why such a large gender difference exists. Some scholars attribute this difference to biological differences between the sexes, but most criminologists attribute it to sociological factors. One of these is gender role socialization: Despite greater recognition of gender roles, we continue to raise our boys to be assertive and aggressive, while we raise our girls to be gentle and nurturing (Lindsey, 2011). Such gender socialization has many effects, and one of these is a large gender difference in criminal behavior. A second factor is opportunity. Studies find that parents watch their daughters more closely than they watch their sons, who are allowed to stay out later at night and thus have more opportunity to break the law.


    Males have higher crime rates than females. An important reason for this gender difference is that boys are socialized to be assertive and aggressive, while girls are socialized to be gentle and nurturing.

    Philippe Put – Fight – CC BY 2.0.

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