Gender Differences & Juvenile Delinquency

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  • 0:04 Male & Female Juvenile…
  • 2:04 Explanations of the…
  • 2:21 Biology, Psychology &…
  • 5:07 Feminist Views
  • 6:28 Sexual Abuse & Exploitation
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Leanne White

Leanne has a master's degree and an independent licensure in chemical dependency counseling. She has extended experience in corrections and post-secondary education.

Have you ever wondered why males commit crimes more than females? Does it have to do with differences in the ways people of different genders are raised, or are there differences in their brain structures? This lesson explores the differences in male and female offenders and why females have historically committed crime at a lower rate.

Male & Female Juvenile Offenders

How would you describe the typical criminal? Would you describe the typical criminal as male or female? Chances are you would say male. Historically, males have committed more crime than females. However, while the rate of male offending has been declining, the rate of female offending has grown over the years, leading to a more equal level of offending between these genders.

Researchers believe females and males in the juvenile justice system are not as different as one might think. Juvenile offenders in general, male and female, typically have less education, more mental health problems, more aggression, and higher rates of abuse and poverty than juveniles who are not involved in criminal behavior. Even though many offenders share these characteristics, the way they respond to each, as well as the rate of exposure to risk factors, can contribute to differences in delinquent behavior.

Let's look at a case study. A brother and sister grow up in the same household. Together, they experience poverty and abuse. The brother responds by keeping the abuse a secret and throwing himself into school work, sports, and a job. He does this so he can stay out of the negative environment as much as possible. The sister responds by blaming her family for her poor grades, lack of friends, and low self-esteem. This type of antisocial behavior is heavily linked to delinquent behavior. Let's look at some questions to consider:

  • Do you think the negative environment is influencing the siblings differently?
  • How do the siblings differ in response tactics?
  • Which sibling is most likely to engage in delinquent behavior and why?

This case study illustrates how the way an adolescent responds to risk factors has a significant effect on delinquent behavior. It also illustrates how the rate of exposure to risk factors can make a difference. The brother is not being exposed to the abuse and dysfunction as often as the sister is due to his choice to stay out of the house.

Explanations of the Female Offender

With the increasing population of female offenders, it's more important than ever to study female delinquency. There are several perspectives that help us understand both why there might be fewer female offenders than male offenders and also why we might be seeing a rise in female crime.

Biological, Psychological & Socialization

An early theory of female offending was the biological perspective, which believes that biological inconsistencies between genders account for differing rates of juvenile delinquency. For example, males are more prone to aggression, which has been linked to delinquency. Furthermore, differences in brain structures could explain the differing gender rates of delinquency. Within the biological perspective, female offenders were sometimes seen as having a more typically masculine brain structure.

The part of the brain that is responsible for verbal and emotional regulation is typically larger in females. This could be one reason that females are sometimes more efficient in vocalizing thoughts and managing emotions compared to males. Research suggests that adolescents in general, with minimal emotional control, are more likely to develop delinquent behavior than their adult counterparts.

The psychological explanation argues that there are differences in the male and female psyches that contribute to delinquency. For example, female offenders are known to have higher rates of internalizing mental disorders (for instance, depression and anxiety), while males typically exhibit externalizing mental disorders (such as ADHD and conduct disorder). Externalizing mental disorders, such as conduct disorder and ADHD, have been linked to higher rates of juvenile delinquency.

The socialization perspective suggests that lower crime rates in females are due to the way they are seen by society. Females are expected to be less aggressive, confrontational, irrational, and impulsive. Juvenile delinquent males are typically viewed as cool by their peers, whereas juvenile delinquent females are not necessarily seen this way. Furthermore, delinquent behavior tends to have longer lasting consequences for females than males, especially those who are mothers. This could deter them from offending, although it also means that if they do end up becoming involved the criminal justice system, the negative consequences have a lasting impact on various aspects of their lives.

Let's look at another case study. A 17-year-old female is the mother of a three-year-old. Because she struggles financially, the baby's father suggests she steal diapers from the store. She knows she could get away with it, but thinks twice about what would happen if she did get caught. Who would take care of her baby? Would she get her baby back once released from jail? What kind of mother does she want to be? Is this the kind of life she wants for her daughter? These are all questions she takes into consideration before deciding not to go through with his suggestion. This isn't to say fathers do not think about these consequences; however, because of the roles that are expected of women in our society, these issues often have a greater effect on the mother.

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