While women in gen­eral commit far fewer vio­lent crimes than men, a new study by a North­eastern Uni­ver­sity pro­fessor finds the dif­fer­ence between the gen­ders is much smaller in dis­ad­van­taged neighborhoods.

The research on the vio­lent crime “gender gap” appears in the December issue of the journal Amer­ican Soci­o­log­ical Review. The study, coau­thored by Gre­gory Zim­merman, assis­tant pro­fessor of crim­i­nology and crim­inal jus­tice at North­eastern, shows that envi­ron­ment plays a more sig­nif­i­cant role in women’s behavior.

This nar­rowing of the gender gap arises because expo­sure to vio­lent peers is greater in dis­ad­van­taged neigh­bor­hoods for both males and females, but females are more strongly influ­enced by their peers than are males,” said Zimmerman.

Our research found that females are typ­i­cally more influ­enced by peers because they tend to have more inti­mate friend­ships than do males. Vio­lent peers exert a stronger influ­ence on behavior when the rela­tion­ships with these peers are more inti­mate,” he said.

The study uti­lized data col­lected from 1994 to 2001 by the Project of Human Devel­op­ment in Chicago Neigh­bor­hoods — an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary study that exam­ined how indi­vidual, family, and con­tex­tual fac­tors con­tributed to youth development.

Zim­merman and his coau­thor, Steven Messner of the State Uni­ver­sity of New York at Albany, say their results reaf­firm the fun­da­mental prin­ciple of fem­i­nist crim­i­nology: Explaining crim­inal behavior and other social phe­nomena requires under­standing of how gender shapes daily inter­ac­tions, rela­tion­ships and behavior patterns.