10 April 2017

The gender gap in criminal behaviour: Male crooks are more often driven by profit; females by fear of getting caught

Hands behind bars

Women fear prison more.

Women are more likely than men to decide not to commit a crime when the probability of arrest goes up. Men, in contrast, are more likely to go straight when they expect to earn less from crime.

These are among the findings from new research by the University of Essex and the Norwegian School of Economics, which is to be presented this week at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference.

The research uses data from the US National Incident Based Reporting System and focuses on property crimes as these are generally found to be more responsive to incentives. The United States is also one of the Western countries with the highest number of women incarcerated.

The study shows that there is a gender participation gap with around 30% of property crimes being committed by females. Specifically, focusing on criminal earnings and probability of arrest, the researchers find that on average females earn 18% less than males but face the same likelihood of arrest.Although both males and females are more likely to commit crimes if the illegal earnings increase and are less likely to commit crimes if the expected probability of arrest increases, females are more responsive to changes in the probability of arrest and males are more responsive to changes in expected earnings.

One of the study’s co-authors, Dr Nadia Campaniello from the Department of Economics at the University of Essex said, “Our results most definitely suggest that policies to tackle crime should be different for males and females. They are clearly motivated by different things and have different concerns.

“We suggest that this is probably down to socio-cultural factors such as how women see their role in the household, raising children and other social norms.”

Historically, men have committed crimes at a higher rate than women, leading to the stereotype of the male criminal. Now, the number of women committing crimes is on the increase but the gender gap remains.

Dr Campaniello’s co-author is Dr Evelina Gavrilova.

The Royal Economic Society Conference is being held at the University of Bristol from 10 – 12 April.

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