Crime and Gender As Steffensmeier

“Greater freedom has increased female participation in the public sphere,” which would expose greater numbers of women to criminal behaviors and the opportunities to commit crimes (Steffensmeier & Allan1996, p. 469). Combined with social control theory, opportunity theory offers a plausible explanation for the gender gap in criminal behavior. Social control theory and opportunity theory share in common the basic assumption that deviance is a natural human instinct; that left to their own devices both men and women are predisposed to crime. Criminal behavior is always an option, according to social control theory and opportunity theory. The two sociological theories suggest that deterrents to committing crime, such as a lack of opportunity or strong social bonds, determine patterns of criminal behavior. Moreover, social control theory and opportunity theory emphasize sociological variables at the expense of psychological or personality-based ones.

The opportunity theories such as theories of routine activities present deviance as a function of exposure. If an individual is exposed to opportunities to commit crime, he or she is more likely to do so. Daily routines and the behaviors associated with them either create or eliminate the opportunity to commit crime. Because male and female daily routines frequently differ, routine activities theory can account for the gender gap in criminal behavior. For example, a stay-at-home mother has a daily routine that consists of household duties and childcare chores. Those daily routines rarely put the woman in contact with an opportunity to rob a bank or steal a car.

However, ancillary variables like social class and relationship with the domestic partner may affect a womans predisposition to commit a crime. Smith & Paternoster (1987) suggest that female deviance is frequently attributed to the “home and family factors” whereas male deviance is more often described as a result of external factors like the “pressure to succeed in achieving culturally defined success goals,” (p. 141). Being poor might motivate a mother to steal, but unless the mother encounters an opportunity to steal during the course of her daily activities then she is unlikely to commit the crime.

Domestic abuse might be a mitigating factor: no matter what her daily routine activities are a woman can always experience or perpetrate domestic violence. Social inequity, victimization, and the desperation of poverty commingle with daily routine activities to provide a matrix of sociological variables.

Gender impacts daily routines because gender norms affect a womans career and lifestyle choices. Part of the reason for the gender cap in criminal behavior is due to differential lifestyle habits and routines. Combined with the differences in social bonds created and nurtured by males and females, opportunity theories of crime help explain why more men commit more crimes — and especially more violent crimes — than women. However, no one theory can encapsulate the causal factors of criminal behavior. Individual differences, personality differences, and social class are all part of the matrix of variables that explain why some individuals are more prone to deviance than others. Men commit significantly more crimes than women. The different patterns in male vs. female behavior are due at least in part to the social bonds men and women create, differences in desire to conform, and to different opportunities for deviance.


Chapple, C.L., McQuillan, J.A., & Berdahl, T.A. (2004). Gender, social bonds, and delinquency: a comparison of boys and girls models. Social Science Research 34(2005): 357-383.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (2005). Crime in the United States: Ten-Year Arrest Trends. Table 33. Retrieved Aug 1, 2008 at

Smith, D.A. & Paternoster, R. (1987). The gender gap in theories of deviance: Issues and evidence. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. 24(2): 140-172.

Steffensmeier, D. & Allan, E. (1996). Gender and crime: Toward a gendered.


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