The Glueck Women: Using the Past to Assess and Extend Contemporary Understandings of Women’s Desistance from Crime
Recent increases in rates of female offending and associated longitudinal data collection efforts focusing on females have contributed to important advances in our understanding of the theoretical mechanisms that shape female offending from onset through desistance. Even so, this literature lacks a historical context against which we can assess the scope and breadth of recent empirical findings and their related theoretical implications. Focusing on desistance, we address this gap with analyses of life history data from a sample of female offenders collected by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck in the early twentieth century. Using these data, the current study provides a historical backdrop against which we compare contemporary theoretical and empirical findings on desistance, specifically the broad influence and specific character of external change mechanisms for women’s desistance.
Using complete retrospective life history and prospective follow-up data for 424 female offenders (264 of whom are desisters), we use logistic regression and conjunctive analysis to assess the influence of key external change mechanisms on the likelihood of desistance.
Findings indicate that, as with contemporary samples, external change mechanisms (marriage, motherhood, and work) are implicated in desistance. However, the specific pattern of effects suggests important and historically contingent differences in how these mechanisms operate over time.
We conclude that external change mechanisms not only activate informal social controls and commitments to a non-criminal identity, they implicate compliance with gendered social norms. As these norms change, the salience and character of key external change mechanisms for women’s desistance should also change. Of course, this is also the case for males, and we encourage desistance researchers to consider the importance of gender as a social institution and the ways in which it conditions the external change mechanisms available to offenders.
KeywordsGender Desistance Life course criminology Women’s history
- 7.Laub, J. H., & Sampson, R. J. (2003). Shared beginnings, divergent lives: delinquent boys to age 70. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- 8.Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (1993). Crime in the making: pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- 11.Paternoster, R., & Bushway, S. (2009). Desistance and the “feared self”: toward an identity theory of criminal desistance. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 99(4), 1103–1156.Google Scholar
- 12.Glueck, S., & Glueck, E. (1934). 500 delinquent women. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
- 13.Smith, K. M. (1994). New paths to power: American women 1890–1920. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- 14.Kessler-Harris, A. (2003). Out to work: a history of wage-earning women in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- 15.Odem, M. E. (1995). Delinquent daughters: protecting and policing adolescent female sexuality in the United States, 1885–1920. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
- 16.Peiss, K. (1986). Cheap amusements: working women and leisure in turn-of-the-century New York. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
- 17.Pollak, O. (1950). The criminality of women. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
- 21.Rafter, N. H. (1990). Partial justice: women, prisons and social control. New Jersey: Transaction Press.Google Scholar
- 22.Chesney-Lind, M., & Pasko, L. (2004). The female offender: girls, women, and crime (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
- 35.Edin, K., & Kefalas, M. (2005). Promises I can keep: why poor women put motherhood before marriage. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- 39.Enos, S. (2001). Mothering from the inside: parenting in a women’s prison. New York: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
- 40.Henriques, Z. W. (1982). Imprisoned mothers and their children: a descriptive and analytical study. Washington, DC: University Press of America.Google Scholar
- 41.Watterson, K. (1996). Women in prison: inside the concrete womb. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
- 42.Graham, J., & Bowling, B. (1996). Young people and crime (p. 145). London: Home Office Research Study.Google Scholar
- 48.Lorber, J. (2004). Paradoxes of gender. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- 53.Hart, T. C. (2014). Conjunctive Analysis of Case Configurations. JDiBrief Series. London: UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science.Google Scholar
- 54.Snell, T. L. (1994). Women in prison (NCJ 145321). Washington DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.Google Scholar
- 55.Russell, B. B. (2013). Perceptions of female offenders: how stereotypes and social norms affect criminal justice responses. In B. B. Russell (Ed.), Perceptions of female offenders: how stereotypes and social norms affect criminal justice responses (pp. 1–9). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar