Why do men commit property crimes?

In my last post, I explain how evolutionary psychological logic can explain why men in polygynous societies are compelled to commit interpersonal violence of murder, assault, and rape. (And, remember, all human societies are polygynous to various degrees, whether simultaneously or serially.) But how can evolutionary psychology explain property crimes?

We can extend to property crimes the same evolutionary logic of male intrasexual competition in the context of polygyny and greater male fitness variance. If women prefer to mate with men with more resources, then men can increase their reproductive prospects by acquiring material resources. Resources in traditional societies, however, tend to be concentrated in the hands of older men; younger men are often excluded from attaining them through legitimate means and must therefore resort to illegitimate means to acquire them. One method of doing so is to appropriate someone else’s resources by stealing them. So the same psychological mechanism that motivates violent interpersonal crimes of murder, assault, and rape can also motivate property crimes of robbery and theft.

My suggestion that men steal in order to attract women might at first glance appear strange, since theft and other forms of resource extortion are universally condemned in human societies; in fact, such condemnation is another cultural universal. It is quite likely, however, that the psychological mechanism that motivates young males to commit violent and property crimes evolved in our ancestors in evolutionary history before the ape-human split (5-8 million years ago), even before the ape-monkey split (15-20 million years ago). In fact, my reasoning logically requires that the crucial psychological mechanisms emerge before the informal norms against violence and theft do; otherwise, violent competition and accumulation of resources through theft would not lead to higher status and reproductive success for males because they would be ostracized for violating the norms (unless, of course, the criminal act goes entirely undetected). I believe that the norms against violence and theft might have evolved in reaction to the psychological mechanisms that compelled young males to engage in violence and theft. The fact that violent and predatory acts that humans would classify as criminal are quite common among nonhuman species that do not have informal norms against such acts increases my confidence in this suggestion. Yes, members of other species also engage in murder, rape, assault, and theft.

These are some of the reasons why men are more violent and criminal than women in every human society. Crime and violence pay in reproductive terms, by allowing men to eliminate or intimidate their rivals and to accumulate resources to attract mates when they lack legitimate means to acquire such resources. But that is just one side of the coin. What about women? Given what I have said in the last two posts, why would any woman commit crimes at all? I will discuss female criminality in my next post.

About the Author

Satoshi Kanazawa

Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist at LSE and the coauthor (with the late Alan S. Miller) of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters.

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