A Control Theory of Gender Difference in Delinquency

Barbara J. Costello, University of Rhode Island
Helen J. Mederer, University of Rhode Island

Social control theory has been widely criticized due to its lack of attention to female crime. Despite these criticisms, we contend that there has been no systematic attempt to explain gender differences in crime utilizing a theoretical perspective that remains true to control theory's fundamental assumptions. We draw on Risman's (1998) work in arguing that gender inequality is created and maintained on three analytically distinct levels: the individual, interactional, and structural levels. We develop a control theory of gender difference in offending that explains how female subordination originated in human societies, and how it involves greater controls being placed on females' behavior through gender socialization, interactional expectations, and institutional arrangements. While most analyses of gender inequality advocate increasing freedsoms accorded to women, we argue that this can only occur if the freedoms accorded to men are decreased. If, for example, men are held just as responsible as women are for the care of children and others, we are likely to work to socialize boys to be just as concerned for the opinions and feelings of others as women are. As a result, we would expect crime rates among men to decreae, and for crime rates as a whole to decrease.

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Updated 05/20/2006