Masculinity is in crisis. Or, at least, that's what Labour MP Diane Abbott suggested when she argued that rapid economic and social change is having a detrimental impact on male identity.
Her speech to the think tank Demos has inspired a vociferous debate among the columnists of our national newspapers and in 'below the line' comment sections. Are men lost? And, if so, how do we describe, quantify, and measure the extent of the problem?
According to Janice Turner in the Times, it's crime figures that tell the most powerful story.
In her column this week she presented a series of statistics that make for sombre reading: men are responsible for 85% of all indictable crimes in England and Wales, 88% of crimes against the person, 90% of murders, and 98% of sexual offences (all for the year to June 2012).
Are men responsible for the majority of crime?
According to data from the Ministry of Justice, men were indeed responsible for 86% of 'indictable offences' in the year to September 2012. (This figure is marginally more up-to-date than the one quoted in the Times).
An indicatable offence is one that must be tried at a Crown Court so we're not talking about speeding fines or petty misdemeanours. However, is there evidence that men are more likely to be guilty of the worst crimes?
In the case of homicide, men are more frequently the perpetrator. For those suspects where proceedings concluded in 2011/12, 89% were male (210 suspects) and 11% were female (25 suspects).
However, men are also more often the victim. Therefore it's important to bear in mind that we're talking about male-on-male violence as well as crimes committed by men against women.
In 2011/12 367 murder victims were male and 172 were female. This means that more than two-thirds of homicide victims (68%) were male. As the Home Office notes, "The homicide rate has consistently been higher for males than for females."
For crimes against the person, the latest figures chime with the numbers quoted in the Times. Men were responsible for 33,171 offences or 89% of the total in 2011/12. For sexual offences, men were found guilty in 98% of cases (although there are problems with the data as many crimes of this type go unreported).
The graph below shows how the balance of male versus female offenders varies depending on the offence:
We find the highest percentage of female offenders for fraud and forgery, which are often referred to as 'victimless' crimes. Meanwhile an offender is most likely to be male in the case of a sexual offence, which is usually classed as a more serious crime by the Home Office. For robbery and violence against the person, men constitute approximately 90% of offenders.
A smaller number of repeat offenders?
It's important to remember that often a single offender is responsible for several offences and so can be counted more than once in the statistics (for every offence he or she commits). The Ministry of Justice make clear that:
"When an offender has been cautioned or convicted of several offences on the same occasion only one offence has been counted; the figures therefore represent counts of separate cautioning or sentencing occasions as recorded on the Police National Computer rather than counts of every proven offence." [emphasis added]
Caveats aside, the statistics clearly show that a man is more likely to be the perpetrator of recorded violent crime even if in certain cases (murder, for example) he's also more often the victim.