Prior to the 1950s, the study of crime in the United States traditionally focused on male behavior. Due to their limited roles in American society, women were not viewed as part of the equation and were therefore overlooked. The roles of women in society at that time were mostly confined to those defined by limited opportunities and gender stereotypes. The 1960s brought about several group movements such as feminism that forced a shift in many of the well-established power structures of American society. One such structure that was challenged was the role of women. As women gained freedom and increased their role, the feminist movement developed and with it came a shift in gender roles. During the above period, attention was brought to a lack of attention to female offending behaviors and patterns. There also seemed to be a lack of interest in understanding female offending or differences in female and male offending behaviors. While there was some literature on the subject, the few available works framed female offending as the actions of morally bankrupt individuals influenced by an attempt to hide their true sexual desires and menstrual cycles. Over time, researchers have increasingly examined female crime. It appears that although women are the fastest-growing criminal justice population, there were and still are gender differences in criminal behavior. Below are some additional research findings in this area:
- Female crime is increasing. Between 1980 and 2018, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of women arrested for both property and violent crimes. Women are more likely than men to commit property crimes (including theft, fraud, larceny) or drug crimes. Overall, they are also less likely to commit violent crimes than men.
- The rate at which women were arrested for violent crimes increased at a more dramatic pace than the rate for property crimes. In other words, when it comes to arrests for violent crime, the gender gap is closing significantly faster.
- When it comes to incarcerated individuals, males still make up a majority of jail and prison populations. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of women incarcerated in local jails increased by 15%. From 2008 to 2018, female arrests for opioid-related violations increased 34%. Although the rate of arrested and incarcerated women has increased significantly, males remain the overwhelming majority of incarcerated individuals.
There are numerous factors that contribute to the increase in female arrest and incarceration rates. However, more research needed to determine the exact causes of the increasing female crime rate.