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Looking through crime’s glass ceiling

By J. Adrian Aumen, College of Arts & Sciences

PULLMAN, Wash. – Judging by today’s popular media, American women are committing more crime than ever, says Jennifer Schwartz, a Washington State University associate professor of sociology and expert in crime trends.

It seems they are drinking more alcohol, getting into more fights and inflicting greater generalized violence while also stealing and embezzling large sums of money – but are they?

Motives, risks, rewards

Schwartz-and-student-450
Jennifer Schwartz talks with a sociology graduate student on the WSU Pullman campus.

“The funny thing is, the same could be said 10, 20 or even 100 years ago,” says Schwartz. While it might seem that women are being arrested more often, they’re not actually committing any more crime than 20 or more years ago.

“In fact, women’s crime rates are declining just like men’s – although men’s rates are declining a bit more steeply because they were so much higher to begin with,” Schwartz says.

She is well known for her work in male and female crime trend analysis, social control and deviance. She recently has become interested in the motives, roles, risks, rewards and punishments for women who commit crime with others.

Gender disparities

Her new research examines the social factors related to women’s involvement in criminal enterprise “versus being utilized in stereotypical, sex-typed ways,” she says.

“The criminal underworld has many barriers to women’s involvement, one being men’s general unwillingness to work with women as crime partners,” she says. “Of course, the more lucrative and violent crimes involve multiple offenders, conspiracy, etc.

“But I would like to better understand what contributes to variability in women’s criminal roles, enticements, rewards and other details about involvement in criminal enterprise and co-offending relationships,” she says.

Gender disparities – in fact and perception – drive many of the questions behind Schwartz’s broader research program at WSU. Why do women commit less crime than men? How does society respond when women break the law?

Infusing new ideas and energy

Schwartz uses novel and proven methods and diverse data sources to track trends in both women’s and men’s crime to get a holistic picture of social changes. Her research differs from other work on gender, crime and punishment through its methodological creativity and rigor, which includes data triangulation techniques and a unique multimethod approach with plans to develop an original database based on archival research.

“My work demonstrates that some policies that seem gender-neutral may have effects that are different for women and men,” she says. The research has many potential applications for examination and development of social control policies.

Environmental crime studied

Another project Schwartz is undertaking with WSU colleagues draws on electronic archives and enforcement records of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to explore the nature and extent of women’s involvement in environmental crimes relative to their male co-conspirators.

Before entering graduate school in sociology and crime, Schwartz had presumed, “like most people,” that women today must be catching up with men in terms of crime.

“They’re making gains in so many other areas of life, so I was intrigued to find they weren’t when it came to crime,” she says. “To me, it’s an interesting puzzle to think about.”

 

Contacts:

Jennifer Schwartz, WSU Department of Sociology (http://libarts.wsu.edu/soc/), schwartj@wsu.edu, 509-335-2657

Adriana Aumen, WSU College of Arts and Sciences (http://cas.wsu.edu) communications, adriana@wsu.edu, 509-335-5671

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