Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases
41 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2012 Last revised: 27 Nov 2018
Date Written: August 29, 2012
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.
Keywords: gender disparity, federal criminal cases, conviction rates, incarceration rates, sentencing, discretionary processes
JEL Classification: K14, K4
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation