Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Janet Stamatel

Second Advisor

Dr. Claire Renzetti


This dissertation explores the mechanisms of the increasing female crime in China from the effect of the one-child policy, which is treated herein as a natural experiment. Data reveal that the women’s share of documented crime dramatically increased after the mid-1990s when the first one-child generation reached the age of legal responsibility. This change reflects the interplay of the behavioral change and the net-widening effect.

The increasing criminality of the one-child generation is attributable to the gap between the equal gender expectations of the individual, which has been reshaped by the unique socialization practices under the influence of the policy, and a stubbornly unequal gender hierarchy in the society. As a result, the one-child-generation women who disproportionately suffer the resulting strains are more likely to become involved in property and occupational crime as the alternative means to fulfill their aspirations for economic success. Additionally, the effect of the policy affects not only the individual gender roles of the only children but also their peers who have siblings through the intermediary of a culture shift. Therefore, the policy has changed the behavior of a whole new generation through the process of socialization and the lag in the structural change.

The net-widening effect is another pathway of the unequal gender structure and ideologies to the increasing female crime. Moral panic associated with the emergence of diverse forms of female offenses lead to an inordinate degree of adverse attention focused upon the one-child-generation women by criminal justice professionals. The increased criminalization of sexuality brought an increasing number of the one-child-generation women into conflict with the law, usually for prostituting themselves for easy money to fulfill their material satisfaction. Consequently, the one-child-generation female offenders are perceived as “doubly deviant” from the law and from the socially prescribed ideology of gender and are, therefore, punished more harshly than before by the criminal justice system.

This dissertation not only explores an understudied country in criminological research but also seeks to apply the findings to a broad sphere to explain the increasing female crime that has been observed worldwide. It disentangles the theoretical controversy in explaining the increase in the share of crime committed by women in general by embedding the argument in a multidimensional gender role repertoire.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)