Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 81–107 | Cite as

Female Juvenile Delinquency: Misunderstood by the Juvenile Justice System, Neglected by Social Science



The study of juvenile delinquency has focused primarily on conduct disorder and aggression in males, while relatively little attention has been paid to females who commit delinquent acts. This article offers a critical review of the existing theories of and research on female delinquency and the juvenile justice system's response to female delinquency. The inadequacies and persistence of historical theories and the conceptual and methodological strengths and weaknesses of contemporary perspectives in female delinquency are reviewed. Understanding and treatment of female and male delinquency could be enhanced through the adoption of a gender-integrated theory of delinquency that is informed by the comprehensive study of developmental, psychological, and social-ecological determinants.


  1. Adler, F. (1975). Sisters in crime. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  2. Austin, R. (1982). Women's liberation and increases in minor, major, and occupational offenses. Criminology, 20, 407–430.Google Scholar
  3. Barton, W., & Figueira-McDonough, J. (1985). Attachments, gender, and delinquency. Deviant Behavior, 6, 119–144.Google Scholar
  4. Bergsmann, I. R. (1989). The forgotten few: Juvenile female offenders. Federal Probation, 53, 73–78.Google Scholar
  5. Bowker, L., & Klein, M. (1983). The etiology of female juvenile delinquency and gang membership: A test of psychological and social structure explanations. Adolescence, 18, 739–751.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown, S. (1984). Social class, child maltreatment, and delinquent behavior. Criminology, 22, 259–278.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, W. K. (1977). Black female gangs in Philadelphia. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 21, 221–228.Google Scholar
  8. Butts, J. A., Snyder, H. N., Finnegan, T. A., Augenbaugh, A. L., & Poole, R. S. (1996). Juvenile court statistics 1993. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  9. Calhoun, G., Jurgens, J., & Chen, F. (1993). The neophyte female delinquent: A review of the literature. Adolescence, 28, 461–471.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Campbell, A. (1987). Self definition by rejection: The case of gang girls. Social Problems, 34, 451–466.Google Scholar
  11. Campbell, A. (1990). On the invisibility of the female delinquent peer group. Criminal Justice, 2, 41–62.Google Scholar
  12. Canter, R. (1982a). Sex differences in self-report delinquency. Criminology, 20, 373–393.Google Scholar
  13. Canter, R. (1982b). Family correlates of male and female delinquency. Criminology, 20, 149–167.Google Scholar
  14. Caspi, A., Lynam, D., Moffitt, T., & Silva, P. (1993). Unraveling girls' delinquency: Biological, dispositional, and contextual contributions to adolescent misbehavior. Developmental Psychology, 29, 19–30.Google Scholar
  15. Cernkovich, S., & Giordano, P. (1979). Delinquency, opportunity, and gender. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 70, 145–151.Google Scholar
  16. Cernkovich, S., & Giordano, P. (1987). Family relationships and delinquency. Criminology, 25, 295–319.Google Scholar
  17. Cernkovich, S., & Giordano, P. (1992). School bonding, race, and delinquency. Criminology, 30, 261–291.Google Scholar
  18. Cernkovich, S., Giordano, P., & Pugh, M. (1985). Chronic offenders: The missing cases in self-report delinquency research. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 76, 705–732.Google Scholar
  19. Chamberlain, P., & Reid, J. B. (1994). Differences in risk factors and adjustment for male and female delinquents in treatment foster care. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 3, 23–39.Google Scholar
  20. Chandy, J. M., Blum, R. W., & Resnick, M. D. (1996). Gender-specific outcomes for sexually abused adolescents. Child Abuse and Neglect, 20, 1219–1231.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Chesney-Lind, M. (1973). Judicial enforcement of the female sex role: The family court and the female delinquent. Issues in Criminology, 8, 51–59.Google Scholar
  22. Chesney-Lind, M. (1977). Judicial paternalism and the female status offender: Training women to know their place. Crime and Delinquency, 23, 121–130.Google Scholar
  23. Chesney-Lind, M. (1988). Girls in jail. Crime and Delinquency, 34, 150–168.Google Scholar
  24. Chesney-Lind, M. (1989). Girl's crime and woman's place: Toward a feminist model of female delinquency. Crime and Delinquency, 35, 5–29.Google Scholar
  25. Chesney-Lind, M., & Shelden, R. (1992). Girls: Delinquency and juvenile justice. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
  26. Cohen, A. (1955). Delinquent boys: The culture of the gang. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  27. Cowie, J., Cowie, V., & Slater, E. (1968). Delinquency in girls. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  28. Curran, D. (1984). The myth of the “new” female delinquent. Crime and Delinquency, 30, 386–399.Google Scholar
  29. Datesman, S., & Scarpitti, F. (1975). Female delinquency and broken homes. Criminology, 13, 33–55.Google Scholar
  30. Datesman, S., & Scarpitti, F. (1977). Unequal protection for males and females in the juvenile court. In T. N. Ferdinand (Ed.), Juvenile delinquency: Little brother grows up (pp. 59–77) Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  31. Datesman, S., Scarpitti, F., & Stephenson, R. (1975). Female delinquency: An application of self and opportunity theories. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 12, 107–123.Google Scholar
  32. Dembo, R., Dertke, M., La Voie, L., Borders, S., Washburn, M., & Schmeidler, J. (1987). Physical abuse, sexual victimization, and illicit drug use: A structural analysis among high risk adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 10, 13–34.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Dembo, R., Williams, L., La Voie, L., Berry, E., Getreu, A., Wish, E. D., Schmeidler, J., & Washburn, M. (1989). Physical abuse, sexual victimization, and illicit drug use: Replication of a structure analysis among high risk adolescents. Violence and Victims, 4, 121–138.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Dembo, R., Williams, L., & Schmeidler, J. (1993). Gender differences in mental health service needs among youths entering a juvenile detention center. Journal of Prison and Jail Health, 12, 73–101.Google Scholar
  35. Elliott, D. S. (1993). National youth survey (United States): Wave VI, 1983. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research.Google Scholar
  36. Elliott, D. S., Wilson, W. J., Huizinga, D., Sampson, R. J., Elliott, A., & Rankin, B. (1996). The effects of neighborhood disadvantage on adolescent development. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 33, 389–426.Google Scholar
  37. Empey, L. T. (1982). American delinquency. Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press.Google Scholar
  38. Everett, T., & Scherer, D. G. (in press). Children who witness interparental violence: Empirical data and theoretical implications. Aggression and Violent Behavior.Google Scholar
  39. Farnworth, M. (1984). Male-female differences in delinquency in a minority group sample. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 21, 191–212.Google Scholar
  40. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1993). Crime in the United States. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.Google Scholar
  41. Figueria-McDonough, J. (1984). Feminism and delinquency. British Journal of Criminology, 24, 325–342.Google Scholar
  42. Figueria-McDonough, J. (1992). Community structure and female delinquency rates. Youth and Society, 24, 3–30.Google Scholar
  43. Figueria-McDonough, J., Barton, W. H., & Sarri, R. C. (1981). Normal deviance: Gender similarities in adolescent subcultures. In M. Q. Warren (Ed.), Comparing female and male offenders (pp. 17–45). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  44. Frick, P. J., Lahey, B. B., Loeber, R., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., Christ, M. A. G., & Hanson, K. (1992). Familial risk factors to oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder: Parental psychopathology and maternal parenting. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 60, 49–55.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Giordano, P. (1978). Girls, guys, and gangs: The changing social context of female delinquency. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 69, 126–132.Google Scholar
  46. Giordano, P., & Cernkovich, S. (1979). On complicating the relationship between liberation and delinquency. Social Problems, 26, 467–481.Google Scholar
  47. Giordano, P., Cernkovich, S., & Pugh, M. (1986). Friendships and delinquency. American Journal of Sociology, 5, 1170–1202.Google Scholar
  48. Girls Incorporated (1996). Prevention and parity: Girls in juvenile justice. Indianapolis, IN: Girls Incorporated National Resource Center.Google Scholar
  49. Gray, E. (1988). The link between child abuse and juvenile delinquency: What we know and recommendations for policy and research. In G. Hotaling, D. Finkelhor, & M. Strauss (Eds.), Family abuse and it consequences (pp. 109–123). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  50. Hagan, J., Gillis, A., & Simpson, J. (1985). The class structure of gender and delinquency: Toward a power-control theory of common delinquent behavior. American Journal of Sociology, 90, 1151–1178.Google Scholar
  51. Hagan, J., & Kay, F. (1990). Gender and delinquency in white-collar families: A power-control perspective. Crime and Delinquency, 36, 391–407.Google Scholar
  52. Hagan, J., Simpson, J., & Gillis, A. (1979). The sexual stratification of social control: A gender based perspective on crime and delinquency. British Journal of Sociology, 30, 25–38.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Hagan J., Simpson, J., & Gillis, A. (1987). Class in the household: A power-control theory of gender and delinquency. American Journal of Sociology, 92, 788–816.Google Scholar
  54. Hagan J., Simpson, J., & Gillis, A. (1988). Feminist scholarship, relational and instrumental control, and a power-control theory of gender and delinquency. British Journal of Sociology, 39, 301–336.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Hämäläinen, M., & Pulkkinen, L. (1995). Aggressive and non-prosocial behaviour as precursors of criminality. Studies on Crime and Crime Prevention, 4, 6–21.Google Scholar
  56. Hancock, L., & Chesney-Lind, M. (1982). Female status offenders and justice reforms: An international perspective. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 15, 109–122.Google Scholar
  57. Henggeler, S., Edwards, J., & Borduin, C. (1987). The family relations of female juvenile delinquents. The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 15, 199–209.Google Scholar
  58. Hill, G., & Atkinson, M. (1988). Gender, familial control, and delinquency. Criminology, 26, 127–147.Google Scholar
  59. Hindelang, M. J., Hirschi, T., & Weis, J. G. (1981). Measuring delinquency. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  60. Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of delinquency. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  61. Horowitz, R., & Pottieger, A. E. (1991). Gender bias in juvenile justice handling of serious crime-involved youths. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 28, 75–100.Google Scholar
  62. Jarjoura, G. R. (1996). The conditional effect of social class on the dropout-delinquency relationship. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 33, 232–255.Google Scholar
  63. Jensen, G., & Thompson, K. (1990). What's class got to do with it? A further examination of power-control theory. American Journal of Sociology, 95, 1009–1023.Google Scholar
  64. Johnson, D. R., & Scheuble, L. K. (1991). Gender bias in the disposition of juvenile court referrals: The effects of time and location. Criminology, 29, 677–698.Google Scholar
  65. Johnson, R. (1986). Family structure and delinquency: General patterns and gender differences. Criminology, 24, 65–84.Google Scholar
  66. Johnson, R. (1987). Mother's versus father's role in causing delinquency. Adolescence, 22, 305–315.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Konopka, G. (1966). The adolescent girl in conflict. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  68. Koroki, J., & Chesney-Lind, M. (1985). Everything just going down the drain: Interviews with female delinquents in Hawaii. Report 319. Honolulu, HI: Youth Development and Research Center.Google Scholar
  69. Krohn, M., Curry, J., & Nelson-Kilger, S. (1983). Is chivalry dead? An analysis of changes in police dispositions of males and females. Criminology, 21, 417–437.Google Scholar
  70. Kroupa, S. (1988). Perceived parental acceptance and female juvenile delinquency. Adolescence, 23, 171–185.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Krueger, R. F., Schmutte, P. S., Caspi, A., Moffitt, T. E., Campbell, K., & Silva, P. A. (1994). Personality traits are linked to crime among men and women: Evidence from a birth cohort. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 103, 328–338.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Kruttschnitt, C. (1996). Contributions of quantitative methods to the study of gender and crime, or bootstrapping our way into the theoretical thicket. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 12, 135–161.Google Scholar
  73. Lombroso, C., & Ferrero, W. (1895). The female offender. New York: Philosophical Library.Google Scholar
  74. McCormack, A., Janus, M., & Burgess, A. (1986). Runaway youths and sexual victimization: Gender differences in an adolescent runaway population. Child Abuse and Neglect, 10, 387–395.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Morash, M. (1986). Gender, peer group experiences, and seriousness of delinquency. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 23, 43–67.Google Scholar
  76. Morash, M., & Chesney-Lind, M. (1991). A reformulation and partial test of the power control theory of delinquency. Justice Quarterly, 8, 347–376.Google Scholar
  77. Mulhern, R. K., & Passman, R. H. (1981). Parental discipline as affected by the sex of the parent, the sex of the child, and the child's apparent responsiveness to discipline. Developmental Psychology, 17, 604–613.Google Scholar
  78. Norland, S., Wessel, R., & Shover, N. (1981). Masculinity and delinquency. Criminology, 19, 421–433.Google Scholar
  79. Phelps, R. J., McIntosh, M., Jesudason, V., Warner, P., & Pohlkamp, J. (1982). Wisconsin juvenile female offender project. Madison, WI: Youth Policy and Law Center, Wisconsin Council on Juvenile Justice.Google Scholar
  80. Poe-Yamagata, E., & Butts, J. A. (1996). Female offenders in the juvenile justice system. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  81. Pollak, O. (1950). The criminality of women. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  82. Pollak, O., & Freidman, A. S. (Eds.). (1969). Family dynamics and female sexual delinquency. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.Google Scholar
  83. Pope, C., & Feyerherm, W. (1982). Gender bias in juvenile court dispositions. Social Service Research, 6, 1–16.Google Scholar
  84. Rankin, J. (1980). School factors and delinquency: Interactions by age and sex. Sociology and Social Research, 64, 420–434.Google Scholar
  85. Rhodes, J. E., & Fischer, K. (1993). Spanning the gender gap: Gender differences in delinquency among inner-city adolescents. Adolescence, 28, 879–889PubMedGoogle Scholar
  86. Robins, L. N. (1986). The consequences of conduct disorder in girls. In D. Olweus, J. Block, & M. Radke-Yarrow (Eds.), Development of antisocial and prosocial behavior: Research, theories, and issues. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  87. Rosenbaum, J. L. (1989). Family dysfunction and female delinquency. Crime and Delinquency, 35, 31–44.Google Scholar
  88. Rosenbaum, J. L., & Chesney-Lind, M. (1994). Appearance and delinquency: A research note. Crime and Delinquency, 40, 250–261.Google Scholar
  89. Rosenbaum, J., & Lashley, J. R. (1990). School, community context, and delinquency: Rethinking the gender gap. Justice Quarterly, 7, 493–513.Google Scholar
  90. Rush, F. (1980). The best kept secret: Sexual abuse of children. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  91. Schlossman, S., & Wallach, S. (1978). The crime of precocious sexuality: Female delinquency in the progressive era. Harvard Educational Review, 48, 65–94.Google Scholar
  92. Schwartz, I. M., Steketee, M. W., & Schneider, V. W. (1990). Federal juvenile justice policy and the incarceration of girls. Crime and Delinquency, 36, 503–520.Google Scholar
  93. Seydlitz, R. (1991). The effects of age and gender on parental control and delinquency. Youth and Society, 23, 175–201.Google Scholar
  94. Shelden, R. G. (1981). Sex discrimination in the juvenile justice system: Memphis, Tennessee, 1900–1917. In M. Q. Warren (Ed.), Comparing male and female offenders (pp. 55–72). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  95. Short, J. F., & Strodbeck, F. L. (1965). Group process and gang delinquency. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  96. Shover, N., Norland, S., James, J., & Thornton, W. (1979). Gender roles and delinquency. Social Forces, 58, 162–175.Google Scholar
  97. Silbert, M., & Pines, M. (1981). Sexual child abuse as an antecedent to prostitution. Child Abuse and Neglect, 5, 407–411.Google Scholar
  98. Simon, R. J., & Landis, J. (1991). The crimes women commit, the punishments they receive. Lexington, MA: Heath.Google Scholar
  99. Simons, R., Miller, M., & Aigner, S. (1980). Contemporary theories of deviance and female delinquency: An empirical test. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 17, 42–57.Google Scholar
  100. Simons, R., & Whitbeck, L. (1991). Sexual abuse as a precursor to prostitution and victimization among adolescent and adult homeless women. Journal of Family Issues, 12, 361–379.Google Scholar
  101. Singer, S., & Levine, M. (1988). Power-control theory, gender, and delinquency: A partial replication with additional evidence on the effects of peers. Criminology, 26, 627–647.Google Scholar
  102. Smith, D. L. (1980). Young female offenders: Analysis of differential handling based on sex. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice.Google Scholar
  103. Smith, D., & Patternoster, R. (1987). The gender gap in theories of deviance: Issues and evidence. Justice of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 24, 140–172.Google Scholar
  104. Snyder, H. N. (1996). Juvenile arrests, 1995. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  105. Snyder, H. N., & Sickmund, M. (1995). Juvenile offenders and victims: A national report. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  106. Snyder, H. N., Sickmund, M., & Poe-Yamagata, E. (1996). Juvenile offenders and victims: 1996 update on violence. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  107. Sommers, I., & Baskin, D. R. (1993). The situational context of violent female offending. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 30, 136–162.Google Scholar
  108. Starrels, M. E. (1994). Gender differences in parent-child relations. Journal of Family Issues, 15, 148–165.Google Scholar
  109. Stattin, H., & Magnusson, D. (1989). The role of early aggressive behavior in the frequency, seriousness, and types of later crime. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 710–718.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  110. Steffensmeier, D. J., & Steffensmeier, R. (1980). Trends in female delinquency: An examination of arrest, juvenile court, self-report, and field data. Criminology, 18, 62–85.Google Scholar
  111. Sussman, A. (1977). Sex-based discrimination and the PINS jurisdiction. In L. E. Teitelbaum & A. R. Gough (Eds.), Beyond control: Status offenders in the juvenile court (pp. 179–191). Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.Google Scholar
  112. Teitelbaum, L. E., & Gough, A. R. (Eds.). (1977). Beyond control: Status offenders in the juvenile court. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.Google Scholar
  113. Thomas, W. I. (1928). The unadjusted girl. Boston: Little Brown.Google Scholar
  114. Thornton, W., & James, J. (1979). Masculinity and delinquency revisited. British Journal of Criminology, 19, 225–241.Google Scholar
  115. Tolan, P. (1988). Socioeconomic, family, and social stress correlates of adolescent antisocial and delinquent behavior. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 16, 317–331.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  116. Torstensson, M. (1990). Female delinquents in a birth cohort: Tests of some aspects of control theory. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 6, 101–115.Google Scholar
  117. Tremblay, R. E., Masse, B., Perron, D., Leblanc, M., Schwartzman, A. E., & Ledingham, J. E. (1992). Early disruptive behavior, poor school achievement, delinquent behavior, and delinquent personality: Longitudinal analyses. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 60, 64–72.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  118. Van Vooris, P., Cullen, F., Mathers, R., & Garner, C. (1988). The impact of family structure and quality on delinquency: A comparative assessment of structural and functional factors. Criminology, 26, 235–261.Google Scholar
  119. Vedder, C. B., & Somerville, D. B. (1970). The delinquent girl. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.Google Scholar
  120. Webster-Stratton, C. (1996). Early-onset conduct problems: Does gender make a difference? Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 540–551.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  121. Weithorn, L. A. (1988). Mental hospitalization of troublesome youth: An analysis of skyrocketing admission rates. Stanford Law Review, 40, 773–838.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  122. Wells, L. E., & Rankin, J. H. (1991). Families and delinquency: A meta-analysis of the impact of broken homes. Social Problems, 38, 71–93.Google Scholar
  123. White, J. L., Moffitt, T. E., & Silva, P. A. (1989). A prospective replication of the protective effects of IQ in subjects at high risk for juvenile delinquency. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 719–724.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  124. White, J. W., & Kowalski, R. M. (1994). Deconstructing the myth of the nonaggressive woman: A feminist analysis. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18, 487–508.Google Scholar
  125. Wright, K., & Wright, K. (1994). Family life, delinquency, and crime: A policymakers guide. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  126. Zoccolillo, M. (1993). Gender and the development of conduct disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 5, 65–78.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© American Psychology-Law Society/Division 41 of the American Psychological Association 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of South CarolinaUSA
  2. 2.College of EducationUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueNM

Personalised recommendations