A quick glance at the statistics seems to tell the whole story: Men commit more acts of violence than women. The U.S. Department of Justice sponsored a National Crime Victimization Study in 2007. This evaluation found that 75.6 percent of all offenders were male and only 20.1 percent were female. In the remaining cases, the victim wasn't able to identify the gender of the offender. According to these results, men commit violent crimes more than three times as often as women [source: United States Department of Justice].
Even taking into account the possibility that many crimes in which a woman commits violence go unreported, such a disparity can't be dismissed. It would take scores of unreported violent acts to even up the numbers. But why is there a gender gap when it comes to violence? Are men hardwired to be violent?
The subject is the matter of much debate among sociologists and psychologists. Theories attempt to explain the difference between men and women. Some suggest that men are genetically disposed to be aggressive. This view fits into the evolutionary psychology school of thought -- in prehistoric times, men had to be able to protect women to ensure the survival of the species. As a result, men developed aggressive behaviors that have been passed down through thousands of years to modern times.
Not everyone buys into the evolutionary psychology view of the world. Some sociologists suggest that the gap may have more to do with a lack of social equality between the sexes. This argument states that the percentages of violent crime committed by men and women would be nearly equal if social status were also equal. But this theory suggests rates of violent crime committed by women should increase over time. According to Darrell Steffensmeier and Emilie Allan, the arrest rate for women accused of committing homicide actually dropped from 1975 to 1990 [source: Steffensmeier and Allan].
But the reason for that drop isn't that women are committing fewer violent crimes. It's that men are committing more violent acts in comparison. Next, we'll look at what factors could contribute to this trend.
A Lack of Men
Steven F. Messner and Robert J. Sampson decided to take a closer look at the numbers behind the statistics of violence. They approached the issue by testing a simple hypothesis: If men are more violent than women, we should see more acts of violence in communities that have a larger male population compared to a female population. But their findings proved differently.
Messner and Sampson discovered that the rate of violent crime was higher in communities that had more females than males. This meant a larger percentage of men in these communities committed acts of violence than men in communities with a more balanced ratio of men to women. Why would that be?
They suggested a few ideas that might explain this trend. One is that in communities that have more women than men, there are more cases of disruption in families. That means that there are more single-parent families -- usually families with no father. Messner and Sampson suggest that the lack of a stable family environment contributes to a culture of crime and violence, though they say that other factors are also important.
It may turn out that there are some acts that men are more likely to commit than women, and vice versa. More men than women commit violent crimes like homicide and aggravated assault, but women are more likely to commit nonviolent crimes like prostitution. Whether that's because of human nature or that there's a far more complex explanation is still a mystery.
Dozens of experts in various disciplines are still trying to determine the root causes of violence among men and women. There may be some motivators that are specific to one gender. Or it could turn out that men and women both experience the same general feelings of aggression but culture and society have shaped our behaviors, leading to more men committing violent acts than women. But in the end, the numbers tell the story: Men are more violent.
More Great Links
- Messner, Steven F. and Sampson, Robert J. "The Sex Ratio, Family Disruption, and Rates of Violent Crime: The Paradox of Demographic Structure." Social Forces. March 1991. Vol. 69, No. 3. pp. 693 - 713.
- Steffensmeier, Darrell and Allan, Emilie. "Gender and Crime: Toward a Gendered Theory of Female Offending." Annual Review of Sociology. 1996. Vol. 22. pp. 459 - 487.
- U.S. Department of Justice. "Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2007 Statistical Tables." National Crime Victimization Survey. (Aug. 31, 2010) http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/cvus0702.pdf