Are women becoming the violenter sex? (Hanna Rosin edition)

Are women becoming more violent as they move towards equality with men? Hanna Rosin says yes. But no.

showed previously that Rosin, in her book The End of Men, grossly exaggerates the decline in sexual assault against women. What about the reverse — the increase in women’s violence?

In the radio show we were on together, the host asked, “Are [women] superior?”, and Rosin answered:

No. In fact, one thing I explicitly avoid in the book is this idea from Steven Pinker and others, that when women take over the world the world becomes a wonderful place, which is why I explicitly put in a chapter about violence, just to sort of make people understand that it’s not that women are wonderful and better … power has an effect on women like it has an effect on men.

That’s trouble, because when Rosin has the answer before she starts the research the outcome is a pretty sure thing. So, let’s see how much more violence women are perpetrating now.

Arresting evidence

Rosin starts her section on violence trends with this:

At the start of the aughts, criminologists began to notice something curious about the crime trends. The great crime wave of the mid-nineties was finally coming to an end. Rates of all violent crimes were plummeting — that is, violent crime committed by men.

She doesn’t actually say violence by women has increased, just emphasizes that it decreased for men. Her actual evidence for an upward trend in violence by women turns out to be from arrest rates. Using a report on the trend from 1992 to 2003, for example, Rosin describes the increase in juvenile assault arrests for girls, which was real.

Here is the trend she’s talking about: juvenile arrest rates for violent crimes, from the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

Even with the early-2000s decline, violent crime arrests for female juveniles were higher in 2004 than they were in 1980 — which was not true for men. She writes, “Women were by no means catching up to men, but they were fast closing the gap.” And that’s true, too — the male rate fell from roughly 8-times to roughly 4-times the female rate.

But arrest rates are tricky, since they reflect both (alleged) violence and police responses. Consider that the rate of homicide charges against female juveniles fell from around 1.0 per 100,000 in the early 1980s to about 0.5 in the late 2000s.

Women’s violence

Setting aside juveniles and arrest rates, we can look at violence by women through reports of victims in the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), and police accounts of homicide offenders.

From victim reports, there has been a slight increase in women’s representation among violent offenders in the last decade — edging up to about 20% of offenders. But the rate of violence by women is decidedly trending down.

The NCVS numbers show a drop in the number of women as violent offenders from the late 1990s. When you factor in population growth in that time, the drop is almost half — from more than 10 crimes per 100,000 women to less than 6:

Murder is probably the best-measured crime. According to FBI reports of homicide offenders, the number of male offenders was about the same in 2005 as it was 30 years earlier — but the number of women committing murder fell by more than 40%. As a result, the percentage of murders committed by women fell from more than 15% to less than 10%:

The FBI also releases rates of homicide for intimate partners. Here the evidence is dramatic and clear: From 1975 to 2005, the number of men murdered by intimates dropped by 75%, compared with a 25% drop in the number of women murdered:

From this evidence, it seems clear that women’s violence is on the decline — not rising, as Rosin says and implies. Even if the juvenile arrest rates reflect violence trends instead of just policing, those are also falling since the early 1990s.

When the evidence is the opposite

So far this goes in the category of exaggeration, ignoring existing evidence, and reading too much into too little evidence. But it gets much worse. A good tip from Ally Fogg (who elaborates here) pointed me toward a case where Rosin doesn’t just misread the evidence — she reverses the evidence to fit her argument.

After quoting a criminologist about how “unhinged” some people get when their narrative of female victimhood is disrupted, Rosin goes back to women’s arrest rates:

A recent British study showed the women were three times more likely to be arrested for domestic violence, and far more likely to use a weapon.

Fortunately, she provides a link to the study in question. The first half of that sentence refers to this passage. But read it:

As might be expected from the nature and severity of the domestic violence incidents, there were more arrests overall of men than of women. All cases [of couples with a violence charge] with seven or more incidents, most of which involved men, led to arrest at some time. This echoes US findings that male domestic violence perpetrators have more extensive criminal histories than female perpetrators. None the less, women were arrested to a disproportionate degree given the fewer incidents where they were perpetrators. Women were three times more likely to be arrested. (bold added)

This is not a case of just leaving out the context. The study’s fact is the opposite of what she implied, which was that women commit more domestic violence (remember, this is shortly after she used arrest rates to represent the prevalence of violence among juveniles).

On the second half of the sentence, that women were “far more likely to use a weapon,” it is true that the study found 24% of women accused of domestic violence used a weapon, compared with 11% of men. And the author wrote, “women were much more likely to use a weapon.” But in the table where that number appears, the difference is marked as not statistically significant (because this study was a small community-level study of just 126 perpetrators of domestic violence).

For the U.S., incidentally, Rosin should have cited evidence that men are in fact more likely to face a weapon in nonfatal intimate-partner violence — 81% versus 69%. Of course, men only experience 17% of nonfatal intimate-partner attacks. Overall, however, this BJS study from the 1990s reported that men were twice as likely as women to use a weapon in the commission of a violent crime. None of this suggests women are becoming more violent at their power grows.

Lest we forget

This 2005 NCVS study reported that women committed:

  • 10% of stranger violence
  • 16% of all non-family violence
  • 23% of all family violence
  • 24% of violence among friends/acquaintances
  • 16% of violence between boyfriends and girlfriends

Men commit most of the violence. The growing employment rates, education levels and earnings of women don’t seem to have changed that much.

I am not coming unhinged. I am concerned about the damage done by Rosin’s corruption of the evidence to support the claim that women’s domination is nigh.

10 thoughts on “Are women becoming the violenter sex? (Hanna Rosin edition)

  1. Thanks for the mentions Philip.

    This chapter struck me as the most fanciful in the whole book, mostly for the reasons given. I know the UK stats really well, they are not remotely reflected in the picture she paints, and I’m not surprised to learn the US figures are similar.

    Before we’d even got to the stats though, she made a socio-cultural argument. In that, she first picked out a horrific murder case in which a (supposedly) dominant, successful woman murdered her husband and held it up as a symbol of our times (I seem to recall she describes the woman in court blaming the victim for being ‘abusive’ because he was insufficiently attentive to her demands, and Rosin suggests this shall become known by lawyers as “the End of Men defence”, which struck me as quite astonishing hubris, but never mind that now) There was no attempt to contextualise this case into a real, broader trend, it was just declared to be somehow typica of our times..Except we all know it is not typical, it is an almost freakish exception. This was one of the many moments where I wanted to hurl the book across the room and out the window.

    She then goes on to write about how we now see lots and lots of violent women in popular culture, and suggests this is because culture is reflecting our times. Except she fails to note that violent women have always been vastly over-represented in culture – has she never read a whodunnit or seen a Hollywood movie?

    I’d also point out that the premise she offered in your radio interview – that violent crime is a function of power relationships – is in itself rather spurious. It’s something that’s largely pinched from feminist dogma rather than serious criminology and I’ve never been convinced by it. Some violence certainly meets that description, but arguably much more is a product of powerlessness and desperation, and in the broad picture, what drives violent crime stats are largely patterns of drug abuse and alcohol consumption and other social phenomena related to poverty, exclusion and alienation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. Another point: even if it were true that women were “closing the gap” on rates of violent crime, that might just be because the police, social services and legal system were getting better at preventing male crime.

    Historically men have accounted for the great majority of violence, so anti-crime initiatives are de facto targeted at men. Quite sensibly they target the people who have historically committed most crimes and try to prevent them committing future crimes – which means certain males (male gangs, male convicted offenders, etc.)

    Now to the extent that these initiatives work that means they’ll disproportionately reduce male violent crime. Supposing 80% of murders in your city are committed by male drug gangs so the police spend all their resources and eventually succeed in smashing those gangs, then murder in that city would drop 80% – but specifically it would be male murders that drop. The female murders would not change, so the proportion would rise.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. P.S. To clarify, what I mean is: assuming that the people fighting crime are a) attentive to history and b) effective, we would expect them to reduce crime among whichever groups had historically committed the most crimes.

    That wouldn’t mean those groups have changed to become less “prone” to commit crimes. It would just mean that they’re less able to actually commit crimes, because the crime fighters are making it harder for them.

    In the extreme case, imagine that the police jailed all men. That would mean that 100% of crime was done by women but not because men had changed, or women had changed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Any chance you could also explain where Dr. Coontz got her statistics on the decline of domestic violence published in the NYT article this week debunking The End of Men?

    Her sentence was, “Domestic violence rates have been halved since 1993, while rapes and sexual assaults against women have fallen by 70 percent in that time.”

    Liked by 1 person

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