Explaining lower female crime rates: biological theories

Do biological differences between men and women explain why women commit much less crime than men?

Biological Theories explain the higher rates of crime in terms of biological differences between males and females. The most obvious example of such a theory is that men have higher testosterone levels than women and thus have higher levels of aggression which is related to higher levels of violent crime

Some research has linked high testosterone levels to the higher rates of male offending and the more serious crimes of male offenders compared to women

Men, in general, are much more aggressive than women — a fact that has led researchers to investigate possible links between levels of male hormones (particularly testosterone) and aggressive or criminal behavior.

James Dabbs studied 4,462 men in 1990 and found that “the overall picture among the high-testosterone men is one of delinquency, substance abuse and a tendency toward excess.” These men, he added, “have more trouble with people like teachers while they are growing up, have more sexual partners, and are more likely to have used hard drugs,” particularly if they had poor education and low incomes. A separate study by Dabbs of young male prison inmates found that high testosterone levels were associated with more violent crimes, parole board decisions against release, and more prison rule violations. Even in women, Dabbs found, high testosterone levels were related to crimes of unprovoked violence, increased numbers of prior charges, and decisions against parole.

A more recent study by Dabbs et al., which pooled data from two groups of prisoners, measured testosterone levels in the saliva of 692 adult male prisoners. The researchers found that inmates who committed crimes of sex and violence had higher testosterone levels than inmates who were incarcerated for property crimes or drug abuse. In addition, they say, “inmates with higher testosterone levels… violated more rules in prison, especially rules involving overt confrontation.”

Evaluations of Biological Theories…

  • There is no difference between non-criminals and men with convictions for non-violent crimes. ž
  • Finding a high correlation between violent men in prison, does not distinguish between cause and effect. Prison, is not the safest place to be, so raised testosterone might have been an effect of being in prison. It is equally likely that a violent lifestyle leads to high testosterone level. ž
  • In general the studies on testosterone and human aggression reach the conclusion that testosterone is involved but is not a prime factor

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