Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases

Sonja B. Starr

University of Michigan Law School

August 29, 2012

University of Michigan Law and Economics Research Paper, No. 12-018

This paper assesses gender disparities in federal criminal cases. It finds large gender gaps favoring women throughout the sentence length distribution (averaging over 60%), conditional on arrest offense, criminal history, and other pre-charge observables. Female arrestees are also significantly likelier to avoid charges and convictions entirely, and twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted. Prior studies have reported much smaller sentence gaps because they have ignored the role of charging, plea-bargaining, and sentencing fact-finding in producing sentences. Most studies control for endogenous severity measures that result from these earlier discretionary processes and use samples that have been winnowed by them. I avoid these problems by using a linked dataset tracing cases from arrest through sentencing. Using decomposition methods, I show that most sentence disparity arises from decisions at the earlier stages, and use the rich data to investigate causal theories for these gender gaps.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 41

Keywords: gender disparity, federal criminal cases, conviction rates, incarceration rates, sentencing, discretionary processes

JEL Classification: K14, K4

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Date posted: September 10, 2012 ; Last revised: September 14, 2012

Suggested Citation

Starr, Sonja B., Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases (August 29, 2012). University of Michigan Law and Economics Research Paper, No. 12-018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2144002 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2144002

Contact Information

Sonja B. Starr (Contact Author)
University of Michigan Law School ( email )
625 South State St
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States
617 821-1222 (Phone)
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