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