Are men inherently more criminal than women?

Elena Scotti/FUSION

How much money would it take to get you to steal a piece of candy? $10? $50? $200? How about to steal a car? Or how about this—how much would it take for you to kill someone? Is there any amount of money that would justify taking someone's life?

Turns out your answer to these questions may vary widely depending on one factor: Your gender. A new survey found that men are much more willing to commit crimes—and for much lower sums of money—than women.

This information was taken from a survey fielded by Get Safe, a company specializing in home security, which asked 2,000 Americans (53% male and 47% female) a series of hypothetical questions using Survey Monkey to gauge how far they'd be willing to stretch their moral compass—and just how much money it would cost to get them to do it. The results were unsettling.

The survey found that 80% of respondents would steal a piece of candy for money. Not too bad—it's just candy, right? Well, 71.8% said they'd be willing to punch someone in the face for money, which feels a bit more unsettling. More than 55% of respondents said they would steal a car for cash, and scariest of all, 40.6% said they would be willing to kill someone if the pay was high enough. Whaaa? Granted, most respondents said it would take millions of dollars to add murder to their resume—but the point is that there appears to be a line, and many Americans say they're willing to cross it.

But the data got a little more interesting when broken down by gender: It turns out men were much more willing to commit crimes than women—and they were willing to do so for a much lower price than women.


According to the data, 77.1% of male respondents said they'd be willing to punch a random person, versus 65% of female respondents. For the men who were willing to commit this type of assault, the median price was $1,500, whereas women reported a median of $2,000 to commit the same crime. Indeed, 61.4% of men versus 46% of women willing to rob a home, with women demanding double the payout. And when it came to murder, 46% of men stated they would kill someone for a median of $100,000,000, whereas 34% of women said they would take a life for five times as much money.


Of course, all of these are improbable hypotheticals, but the answers shed light on an interesting question: Are men actually more criminally inclined than women?


With the recent spate of police killings, race-based violence, and mass shootings in this country, it appears on the surface that yes, men tend to be at the core of most violent crimes. In fact, a few weeks ago, I wrote about the fact that 98% of mass shooters in the U.S. are men. And a recent Los Angeles Times piece titled "One group is responsible for America’s culture of violence … It’s men," reported the following:

  • 98% of the officers who have shot and killed civilians are male
  • 90% of those who commit homicide by any means are male
  • 80% of those arrested for all violent crimes—murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault—are male.

But before we throw men under the bus entirely, it's important to consider other factors that may contribute to both the survey data and previous reports. To get a better sense of why there seems to be such a strong connection between violent crime and the Y-chromosome, I contacted James Garbarino, a professor, psychologist, and the author of the book Listening to Killers: Lessons Learned from My 20 Years as a Psychological Expert Witness in Murder Cases.

His explanation? "I think it’s a mix of biological, genetic, cultural, and social factors, and when they all intersect, that's when you get a problem," Garbarino told me over the phone.


For example, men are much more likely than women to carry a form of the gene known as MAOA—nicknamed the "warrior gene"—which, when combined with other factors, can lead to increased aggression and violence. Eighty-five percent of children who are abused and also carry the MAOA gene end up with aggression problems, for example. However, "If you're not abused, then the gene becomes irrelevant," he explained. Certain mental disabilities including antisocial personality disorders are also more common in men, he said, which can contribute to aggression issues later in life.

Then there's the empathy factor. Speaking extremely generally, Garbarino noted that men tend to be more emotionally disconnected than women, which can influence violent crime. "It's more like, act now, feel later," he explained. Which is why it makes sense to him that more men than women in the survey said they were willing to murder someone for money.


"Men will say this, but it's because they [might not] get the emotional significance of what it would mean to actually kill someone," he said.

Then, of course, there is social conditioning, and specifically the fact that American society has equated masculinity with strength and aggression. "Males are taught and trained from a young age to be aggressive without feeling," said Garbarino, pointing out that the Trump presidential campaign is a perfect example of this IRL.


"Trump has overwhelming support among men—and I don't think they’re monsters, but they’re not getting the significance of what he says and what he represents," referring to some of Trump's more violent, aggressive rhetoric towards protestors, immigrants, and women.

So how do we avoid strengthening these contributing factors? One way to combat this so-called toxic masculinity is to change how we socialize our children. Garbarino said, for example, that if a boy starts crying in pre-school, the teacher is likely to stand him up, look him in the eyes, and say, "What's wrong?" But if a girl starts crying, she is likely to be comforted. "What you should probably do is put the little boy on your lap and comfort him," he explained. "If you want to run against the tide biologically and culturally you need to socialize explicitly."


That, and get more little boys to look up to a variety of male role models, representing less aggressive forms of masculinity. "If you want to have more men not prone to aggression, then they should be watching Mister Rogers. But some people feel that would be disloyal to masculinity," he explained.

While our conversation only scratched the surface of a long list of catalysts, it appears that certain men are caught in the crosshairs of genetics, emotional disconnection and culture, making them both biologically predisposed to violence and conditioned from a young age to act on that violence without remorse.


While men might be more prone to committing acts of violent crime, as Garbarino put it: "If the price is large enough, people may do all kinds of things that they wouldn’t normally do."

Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.

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