Female criminality: toward a clarification of sex-role influence

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The notion of changing sex-role attitudes has been utilized as an criminality (Adler, explanation for increasing 1975; Hoffman-Bustamante, female 1973; Steffensmeier, 1980; Simon, 1975). Despite the paucity of evidence, the women's movement has been held suspect by the suggestion that changing sex-roles result in increased violence of crime committed by women.

The purpose of the present study was to provide further information about the sex-role orientations of female offenders in a penal setting and to explain the relationship between criminal sex-role orientation and other social variables descriptive of criminality.

A two-part questionnaire was administered to 109 women inmates at a correctional facility and to a control group of 107 female freshman at a southwest Virginia university. A personal history inventory provided basic demographic information such as age, race, educational level, family background, and marital status. A short 15-item version of The Attitudes Toward Women Scale (Spence and Helmreich, 1973) was used to measure the respondents' sex-role attitudes.

The results of the study indicated that women inmates were more traditional in their sex-role attitudes when compared with a sample of college women. There was no relationship between female offenders' sex-role attitudes and the type of crime committed. Finally, the educational level of the inmate respondents and amount of time incarcerated, were statistically significant predictors of both AWS score and the type of crime committed.

Explanations of female crime are only now beginning to be tested. Those who have tried to examine the link between the women's movement and female crime have found little or no evidence of a relationship. Such was the case in the present study. Before more complete interpretations of the data on female crime can be formed, more studies need to be conducted.