University of Essex, UK
Women in crime
Over the last 50 years women have been increasing their participation
in the labor market and in the crime market
Keywords: crime, women, gender gaps
In recent decades, women’s participation in the labor
market has increased considerably in most countries and
is converging toward the participation rate of men. Though
on a lesser scale, a similar movement toward gender
convergence seems to be occurring in the criminal world,
though many more men than women still engage in criminal
activity. Technological progress and social norms have
freed women from the home, increasing their participation
in both the labor market and the crime market. With crime
no longer just men’s business, it is important to investigate
female criminal behavior to determine whether the policy
prescriptions to reduce crime should differ for women.
Female prisoners make up less than 10% of the prison
population in industrial countries
US JapanAustralia Spain Finland SwedenGermany Norway
UK Greece Italy
Source: International Centre for Prison Studies. Online at:
More women are committing crimes than in the
past, but they have not yet caught up with men.
The gender gap in crime is partly explained by
women’s weaker criminal abilities and greater risk
Since having young children reduces a woman’s
propensity to commit crimes, subsidies for having
children might reduce female criminality.
Married women are more likely to have children and
to be able to insure against negative income shocks
through their husbands’ incomes, thus reducing their
propensity to crime.
Reducing wage disparities across female skilled and
unskilled workers might decrease the propensity of
women to commit crimes.
Traditional policies to fight crime have not
distinguished between women and men, as not
enough is known about what motivates female
Technological progress and social norms have freed
women from the home, increasing their participation
in both the labor market and the crime market.
A higher participation of women in the labor market
might increase female participation in the crime
Convergence in the social roles of women and men
might increase crimes committed by women.
The judicial system seems to be more lenient toward
AUTHOR’S MAIN MESSAGE
There is still a gender gap in the crime market, but the number of women committing crimes is on the rise, partly because
other socio-economic gender gaps have been shrinking. Women have more freedom than in the past, and with that come
more opportunities for crime. Despite increasing social equality, police and judicial systems still tend to be more lenient with
female than with male offenders. Policies to reduce wage disparities between skilled and unskilled female workers, such as
incentivizing female education, might reduce crime among disadvantaged women. Family support policies, by encouraging
marriage and having children, might also reduce crime among women.
Women in crime. IZA World of Labor 2014: 105
doi: 10.15185/izawol.105 | Nadia Campaniello © | November 2014 | wol.iza.org