Crime and Improvements in the Socio-Economic Position of Women

Kirstine Hansen, London School of Economics

Since the 1970s women have made considerable gains int he labour market. They are now more active in the labour market, are more represented in higher grade occupations and the male/female wag gap has narrowed. Criminological theory predicts that, if economic incentives are important for crime, these patterns of change could affect womens' participation in crime in either direction. First, the amount of crime committed by women should decrease if the number of economically marginalized women who need to turn to crime as a source of income is reduced. Second, as the gender equality hypothesis suggests, female crime participation should increase as the rise in female employment provides opportunities to commit work related crimes and for women to form networks beneficial for criminal activities. However, despite the large shifts in the economic position of women relative to men, trends in female criminal participation have not greatly altered since the 1970s. In this paper I use area-level data from England and Wales between 1975 and 2000 to examine why labour market gains made by women have had such a limited impact on patterns of female offending. The focus is on two alternative explanations. The first is related to changes in the structure of the male labour market, in particular the widening of the male wage distribution, which has dampened down the effect of gains made by women (the 'swimming upstream' hypothesis). The second uitilises self report data to examine changes in self reported offending and the non-economic aspects of women's lives, including social and parental control, peer groups and leisure activities.

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Updated 05/20/2006