Gender Socialization to Committing Crimes: The Problem of Juvenile Delinquency

by Aleksandra Gasztold


Family is the first and most important agent of socialization.  It is also a critical institution of social control. Children are socialized differently according to their sex. It lies at the foundation of the stratification and diversities of roles and attitudes. Furthermore, it distributes and genders any kind of activity, even the criminal one. Methods and means that parents use to exert authority over their sons and daughters determine the power relations in family. It translates into other relationships also in workplace and in public life, more broedly. It is very difficult to raise a child in a gender neutral way. Moreover, living in a given culture (a specific context) exercises what parents (or caregivers) informs parents understanding of femininity and masculinity.

One theory in criminology which explains the phenomenon of a higher participation of young men in crime is Power-Control Theory. Power-control theory  of gender and delinquency (John Hagan)  concerns the control displayed in the household over children. In this approach, demoralization of teenagers – the group among which the research was carried out – is the result of the social position of parents (power), which translates into the way in which families perform their function of exercise authority over children (control). However, parents tolerance depends on the amount of power which they have in the workplace. The studies have shown that parents who have jobs where they must supervise the activities of subordinates tend to be relatively tolerant of the trouble-making behaviour of their children, especially their sons. The rule is simple: children from more affluent homes should have be more incline to demoralization. This was to be due to the fact that the family’s income is based predominantly on businesses run by fathers (own companies). Men-employers repeat their dominant position at work in the form of a superior attitude in family relations. The mothers, instead, exercise direct control over the home and children. In a paternalistic family this means that women are expected, above all, to provide care for and supervision over daughters and to leave a large margin of freedom to their sons. For example, this model promotes mothers as being more controlling over their daughters than their sons. Simply putt: boys enjoy greater freedom than girls, hence their activity is wider.  In theory, boys in traditional families should be subject to the father’s authority, above all. However, the control possibilities of the father are limited due to his involvement in professional work. As a result, in traditional (patriarchal) families sons have greater opportunities for deviant action than daughters. The situation is different in egalitarian (balanced) families, that is, those in which fathers and mothers share theirs equally professional and family responsibilities, as well as in the homes where the wives occupy dominant positions (they are „heads of families”). This leads to equally deviant behaviour on the part of daughters and sons. Hence, children are socialized in the same way –  regardless of sex, they share similar attitudes (independence, risk taking) so their behaviour, including involvement in deviant and delinquent activities , is also comparable. The gender gap in the egalitarian family is narrower than in patriarchal one.

The theory of power-control has been criticized for several reasons. Everyone questioned the higher probability of deviant behaviour tendencies occur among children from wealthier families. It has also been emphasized that differences in functioning of the family between  employee family and employer family are not substantial. The theory has also been accused of omitting the issue of unemployed parents.

To sum up the sex of the child determines the process of its socialization through the scope and strength of the control applied. The empirical research of Hagan (and his team) basically confirm the hypothesis that the disproportion between the sexes in criminal activity is higher among patriarchal families and lower in more partner families. Further analyses haven’t confirmed that “freedom at home” increases the probability of crime involvement. Nevertheless, they have demonstrated that poverty and economic marginalization determine the circumstances of delinquency for boys and girls.




Hagan J., Modern criminology, crime, criminal behaviour and its control, MacGraw-Hill, New York 1989.

Hagan J., Gillis A., and Simpson J.: The class structure of gender and delinquency: Toward a power-control theory of common delinquent behavior; American Journal of Sociology, No 6, Vol. 90, May 1985.