Gender, Economic Marginalization and the Gender Gap in Arrests: An Examination of U.S. Cities, 1960-2000

Karen Heimer, University of Iowa
Halime Unal, Mugla University/University of Iowa
Stacy Wittrock, University of Iowa

Although there is a substantial gender gap between women's and men's criminal offending, this difference has diminished somewhat over the past four decades. Existing research on this trend has mainly centered on national-level analyses, which can obscure important patterns that may emerge at the local level. Furthermore, rather than pushing forward into new theoretical territory existing research has focused primarily on the liberation explanations that emerged in the 1970s. The present paper targets these two limitations in previous research. First, we examine female-to-male patterns of arrest across a sample of 100 olarge U.S. cities, from 1960 to 2000, assessing whether the city-level trends mirror the national-level trends. Second, we present an economic marginalization perspective on the gender gap in crime that synthesizes economic arguments from criminology and feminist theory and research on crime as well as poverty. The basic tenet of such a perspective is that there will be a reduction in the gender gap in criminal offending in times and cities where poverty is "feminized" and the differences between women's and men's economic well-being are great. We next test predictions derived from the economoic marginalization perspective using city-level from the U.S. Census for 1960 through 2000. Finally, we discuss the usefulness of an economic marginalization theory for understanding changes in the gender gap in crime over time and differences across cities.

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Updated 05/20/2006